The collar

I like to think that I am unaffected by fashion, but it isn’t true. For many years, I wore a white shirt with a tie when I was at work. My usual dress for days when I was not at work and for days when my primary responsibility was youth events was a t shirt, often with the logo of some event, and a pair of jeans. But I dressed up when I was working in the church office. That dress was a way of connecting with the people and the community I served. Although farmers and ranchers don’t wear ties to work, the professionals in our rural town did. In the early days of my career bankers, teachers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals wore the same type of clothing that I was wearing.

The workplace, however, has become more casual. I began to wear ties less often and collected colored shirts as well. Along the way, I noted that deciding what clothing to wear is easier for a man than it is for a woman. There are many days when I get up and get dressed without giving much thought to what I will wear.

The origins of clergy wearing robes lie in part in the desire to have simple dress that frees a clergy person from the whims of fashion. At our ordination, we were presented with a pair of simple soles, with reversible colors. One was green with purple on the other side, the other was white with red on the other side. These four colors covered all of the liturgical seasons of the year and could be worn with an academic robe or a simple clergy robe. We had homemade robes for the first decade of our service, but didn’t wear them for regular worship during the time we were serving our first parish. Robes and stoles were reserved for special ceremonies such as ordinations and installations. When we moved to our second parish, in a more urban location, we began to wear robes for regular worship leadership. Our second set of robes were a gift for the tenth anniversary of our ordination and were simple choir robes. They served us well and Susan still wears hers on occasions when a robe is desired. Somewhere along the way we acquired more stoles and now our closet is filled with many colorful stoles from many different places, with many different stories behind them.

For the most part, however, dress that sets me aside as a clergy person is reserved for actual worship. People know that I am a minister, but usually from conversation, not from how I dress. A conversation over a haircut or a transaction in a store might include a question about what job I do and I am glad to share that I am a minister of the United Church of Christ. This can lead to some confusion simply because not all Christian ministers are the same. The title, however, is comfortable to me after more than 40 years of ordination.

On very rare occasions, I do wear a clergy collar. I own two black shirts that accommodate a clergy collar, one long-sleeved and the other short-sleeved. I have been known to joke that a shirt that is only worn on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and for an occasional visit to the jail will last a lifetime. I’ve not felt the need to own any more shirts for a clergy collar. The used of clergy collars is slightly more common in our denomination today than was the case when we began serving as pastors, but it is not as common in our church as it is in others.

I’m not sure why I have adopted the habit of wearing the collar on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Actually I wear it on other days of Holy Week as well. I think that it is a combination of a message that I want to share with others and a discipline that I choose for myself. The easiest explanation for me is that I do accept a discipline of Lent. I see the season as an opportunity to make changes in my lifestyle. I try to focus less on myself, less on consumption, less on acquiring things and turn my attention to service and sharing faith. Lent is always a season of reaching out for me. I try to give myself opportunities to talk about my faith with special attention to reaching out to those who do not participate in a church. I am more invitational than is the case during other seasons of the year. Each Lent, I resolve to make permanent changes in my life, and sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I have to repeat the discipline for several Lenten seasons to make the change permanent. Lent is, for me, an opportunity to make changes.

The collar, however, can be a symbol for many people of things which it does not represent to me. I am not Roman Catholic. I am not celibate. I am aware that in the midst of current clergy sex abuse scandals that the collar is associated with pain and abuse of power for some. To the extent that it is a symbol of power at all, it isn’t an appropriate symbol for me. I don’t intend for it to be seen as such, but I can’t control how others interpret the symbol.

So today I will don the collar once again. It is a nod to tradition. Clergy have worn distinctive collars for many generations. I belong to a long line of servants. My choice of clothing will serve as a reminder to me about the season that lies ahead and my call to make fresh commitments to the future of the church and the people I serve. It will also serve as a reminder to those who see me out in the community that there is something special about this day. It isn’t just an ordinary day, but the beginning of a new season.

And, if I am thoughtful, it can also remind me that what clothing I wear is no where near as important as how I treat other persons. Their lives will be touched by who I am, not by how I look.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!