Before I was ordained, I didn’t think I would wear a clergy collar very much – probably just for services on Sunday and maybe a few “official” things in between. As it turns out, I have been wearing my collar nearly every day that is “work” day. The days I have not worn it, something has happened that has made me wish that I had.
It isn’t that I feel like I need to wear it in order to do “church work” or to feel like I have the right or authority to do that work, but I see it as a way of visibly bringing the church into places where people might not expect it. I enjoy exploding people’s expectations.
There is another side to wearing the collar, however. That is people’s reactions to it and to me wearing it. I will admit, I had my own set of expectations to how people would react. I expected that it would make me almost gender-less, that people would look right past me to the collar and see me as a representative of the church – for good or for bad. Which is why I’ve stopped jaywalking while walking around downtown while wearing it…
There have been a few really lovely interactions with people as a result of walking around downtown in my collar. One woman stopped dead in her tracks while walking towards me on the sidewalk: “Whoa! Are you a priest??!” I am a transitional deacon, but I said yes, deciding that now was not the time or place to try and explain the intricacies of Anglican holy orders.
Another man stopped me and very loudly introduced himself as “KEVIN WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA,” asking if I was an Anglican priest, telling me about the Catholic parish he attends, his favourite prayers to pray, and what time his service was this coming Sunday.
Them there was the couple sitting outside of one of the coffee shops I frequent who asked if I was the minister at one of the United Churches in town. Apparently she has taken to wearing a collar on a more regular basis. And obviously there can only be one female walking around town in a collar… (Hah!)
There are the less fantastic interactions that happen, however. I was catcalled last week while wearing my collar and riding my bicycle the six blocks in between the Cathedral and St John’s. Catcalled.
This week, in the space of about a half hour walking around town, I felt visibly undressed by two men as I waited at a stoplight and another gave me a lascivious wink as I walked by.
So much for being gender-less in a clergy collar.
It isn’t a surprise to the Internet that women feel objectified for what they wear. We often spend far too much energy analyzing our clothing so that it gives the “right” impression. Never did I think that I would spend more time analyzing clothing when the top is a given, the clergy shirt and collar, than when I am just dressing to go out the door for an ordinary day.
Not that I regret putting this piece of plastic (for now plastic – I’d like to get some softer cloth collars!) around my neck each morning. It is the visible symbol of what I have committed to in my life. It is often a visible sign of the presence of the church, and therefore (gulp) God, in the world. My life might end up being on display to people but it also opens the door for conversation and for challenged expectations of what and who is the church. After all, that is kind of what I signed up for in my ordination vows: You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world … At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.