Since my ordination to the priesthood, I've occasionally noticed shades of ambivalence among my clergy colleagues about the appropriate times and places to wear the clerical collar. I've not heard anyone suggest that it's inappropriate to wear it on Sunday mornings or during the week's "working hours." But when it comes to social occasions - such as an after-hour's cookout with the men's group at the church or an engagement party or other festive event in a parishioner's home - the unspoken rule seems to be: "Don't be caught dead wearing a clerical collar!"
I can't quite put my finger on what's behind all of this.
Is it because some of us feel embarrassed to be seen out and about in a collar?
Are we worried that we're sending a negative message, that it's a turn-off, a party-pooper? And why would that be the case?
Are we making too sharp of a distinction between when we're "on the job" and when we're not, sort of like when the MacDonald's worker gets off work, he/she changes out of the uniform before hooking up with friends? (Of course, the ordination vows are always in effect, no matter what you're wearing.)
And are we losing opportunities to bear symbolic witness to the presence and concern of the Church in times and places that might otherwise miss that witness?
As these kinds of questions turn over in my mind, I find the following reflections by a Lutheran pastor relevant:
Wearing the collar reminds me of my calling.
For the first couple of years of my ministry, I didn't wear it, except on Sunday morning. Not that I would forget what I was doing, but when I wear my collar during the week, I am reminded of the seriousness of the office of the ministry.
The criticism is that those of us who wear their collars, all the time, take themselves too seriously. Some have even asked me if I have clerical pajamas. I would argue that those who don't wear theirs take themselves and the office that they hold too lightly.
The pastor who was here as the vacancy pastor reminded me of the symbolism behind the clerical collar. I think it fits; so I will share it. The pastor wears his black clerical collar for two reasons. First, the black shows to the world that the pastor too is a sinner, dead in his trespasses and sin. By himself, a pastor is nothing. But, secondly, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, the words that come out of his mouth should be as white as freshly fallen snow. When people see that collar, it reminds them that God is present and pastors are His representatives.
Yes, some people will feel uncomfortable with it. Pastors who wear their collars may make some people nervous. Others will be turned off because of the individual problems with the Roman Catholic Church. Most people would agree that our society, and our church has lost a sense of what it means to be reverent. So much in our society is dumbed-down. Pastors who wear their collars remind the world that there is nothing wrong with tradition as long as it leads people to Jesus. That is what the office of the Ministry is all about- leading people to Jesus.
Most people don't have a problem with a soldier or policeman who wears his uniform. When people see the officer in their uniform, it reminds them of what they are all about. Should not pastors stand out in the crowd? Should not a pastor remind those around that God is present? I believe that wearing a clerical collar does just that.
I'm inclined to agree.