Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clericals: Aye or Nay?

Meet Pippa:

Pippa has been part of our household for almost eight months now, a very welcome and happy addition to our family, who is always ready to play with her ball from early morning to late at night (if we'll throw it for her!). There are many reasons I like Pippa (remarkable, given that I wasn't really a dog person before), but one great reason is that she is always pleased to see me, no matter what I'm wearing. She doesn't act differently depending on what I'm wearing.

Take a typical weekday morning. I'll come down to take her outside and I'll probably be wearing jeans and some sort of hoodie/fleece/jumper, and she jumps up ready to play. Sunday morning, I'll come down in my suit and clerical collar, but she doesn't react differently; she'll still jump up and be ready to go outside and play. She simply doesn't understand the different (and perhaps bizarre for her) changes of clothes I wear on different days. After all, she has her coat (which sheds quite a bit of hair!), always looking the same. My clothes change daily, maybe even a couple of times in the same day. The clericals mean nothing to her.

Yet there are some people who react very differently when they encounter me in clericals, and not always in a good way. For example, some of the young people who came to drop in were getting to know me, as we were trying to get to know them and teach the Bible. Then one Sunday evening we had a special service in church and I had been wearing my collar (rather than a normal shirt as we normally do on Sunday evenings). They couldn't believe that I was a minister! When they saw the collar, that small bit of plastic, suddenly their defences were up! No longer was I just Gary, but I was a minister, that alien, weird species of non-human!


It's not just young people either. People of almost any age will suddenly change how they speak or act - apologising if they should accidentally swear in my presence... As if I haven't heard those words before!

Sometimes the collar can be a useful tool for ministry - especially in hospitals, in order to gain access to some wards outside of visiting hours. It's an easily recognisable sign of who I am. At others, though, the clerical collar can tend to be a barrier to forming relationships and the business of everyday personal evangelism.

If only everyone was more like Pippa, and take me for me, not some stylised impression of what a plastic collar infers...


  1. What really gets me is when people see me in civvies and ask if I'm enjoying my day off! Er no - its not my day off.

  2. Good point Brian! The expectation must be that if you're not in a collar, then you're not working... How can we change these perceptions?