Friday, January 16, 2009


The clerical collar. To wear, or not to wear; that is the question.

Since being ordained last June, the clerical collar has been part of my wardrobe. Yet out of my class of Curates, I probably wear mine the least. I was changing out of 'normal' clothes into my collar earlier to go to the hospital, and it got me thinking about why it is worn.

For some, it's seen as uniform. If a police officer wears a uniform, and a traffic warden, or a shop assistant, then you know who they are, and what they do. Instantly recognisable. So if you're in a shop, you know who to ask where the soy sauce or the loo rolls are. By wearing the collar, people know you're a minister / pastor, and may well approach to ask a question. Furthermore, when you go into hospital to do visits, it's easier to wear a collar, as it provides better access and less questions.

Indeed, some would argue that it's a positive witness. By wearing the collar out and about, people see that you're a minister, and therefore, they may see what being a Christian is like as they see you going about your business. But there's a negative side to this as well. Some friends confess to driving better when wearing a collar - no road rage - than if they're in jeans and t-shirt. Again, it's a witness thing, but from the negative side.

Surely this is a bad thing, though. Surely we should be driving well whether we're in a collar or not. Surely we should behave well whether we're in a collar or not. Because at the end of the day, we're still a Christian. Should there be higher standards for clergy than for 'ordinary' Christians?

While there are some advantages, as we've seen, I think there may well be some disadvantages too. Sometimes, people react to the collar, rather than to the person. So rather than the usual mugs with a chip in them, the 'good china' comes out, or biscuits are set out on a plate or tray rather than out of the pack like normal.

However, perhaps the biggest danger of the collar is at a hidden level, within the heart of the minister. A useful question to ask is this: Why am I wearing this collar today? Is it to create openings, or to be seen and respected? Is the collar a way of boosting my ego and puffing up my public persona?

How does Jesus view such religious trappings? Let's see what he said of the Pharisees, who loved their dressing up and their public profile.

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you - but not what they do. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market-places and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven... The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:2-12)

Do we try to humble or exalt ourselves when wearing the collar? I have no doubt that it is useful and good and right, but surely not all the time?

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