Monday, November 26, 2007
How Clergy Dress
A recent comment on an old post regarding dressing for church (July) brought up the topic of clergy dress. As all can see from my picture on this blog I prefer the so-called "Roman collar" or "tab shirt." I also occasionally wear the "Anglican" or "neckband" style of shirt popular among some Lutherans and Episcopalians. Within my tradition a great variety exists. The appearance of a Lutheran clergyman can range from very casual to a suit and tie to a clerical collar. No doubt much is communicated by the way a pastor dresses, even though there are those who would like to believe that dress is neutral. As pastor dresses for the most part, I suspect, to reflect the way he views his office (vocation) and the way he wishes to project himself to his people.
While I do not wish to judge the dress of other pastors, I would like to offer a rationale for those of us who wear distinctive clerical clothing. To some eyes the "Roman collar" makes the Lutheran pastor appear stiff and aloof, and suspect of Roman tendencies (e.g. highly liturgical). And for this reason many would avoid this dress altogether. Personally I realize that people often form opinions of dress without taking the time to understand the person, and little can be done in most cases to alleviate this bias.
In a culture that uses uniforms for quick and easy identification, the clerical collar shirt offers the pastor a way to help people determine his purpose even before they talk to him. This is especially evident in hospitals where a suit and tie can be confusing to those who identify doctors with this. In my work with the fire department I have come to realize that uniforms are a necessary and important part of what we do, especially when one does not always have the luxury of explaining to people the details of what is happening. So, for starters, the clerical shirt is a means of communication and identification.
Secondly, the clerical attire also helps to illustrate the purpose and role of the pastor within the worshiping community. He is, as we Lutherans say in the familiar absolution, "a called and ordained minister of the Word" standing "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ." In a small way the shirt demonstrates an awareness of his calling. While he is a sinner just like those he serves, he is also the one who brings the reality of Christ's presence to them in Word and Sacrament.
Thirdly, the clerical collar is not bound to the passing and changing styles of men's dress, and it does not convey to people the wealth of the wearer. A man wearing such a shirt looks the same today as he will 20 years from now, and it is difficult to know if he is an impoverished cleric or one well paid. A clerical shirt is a clerical shirt, and even the cheap ones have the same features as the more expensive ones.
Finally, the uniform helps me as a pastor be personally conscious of my calling. This week I was out hunting with some members and naturally I was decked out in "hunter orange" (It helps to keep me from being shot at.) Today, on my day off I am wearing a well-worn flannel shirt and blue jeans (in case you thought I did everything in that black shirt with the little tab!). But when I am working, especially when I am visiting shut-ins and the hospitalized or counseling the troubled or attending important meetings in the church, the shirt helps to remind me of my role. I am not the administrator of the parish, although I assist in keeping things running smoothly. I am not just a counselor, although I counsel the troubled. I am the pastor, a word that means "shepherd," and my calling first and foremost is to bring Christ to the people through the Word and Sacrament ministry of the church. That's who I am. The shirt, in a small way, helps me to honor and respect the privilege that this office represents, and keeps me focused on my true calling.
One last note: I believe that many people are sufficiently accustomed to seeing this attire so they do not automatically assume that the wearer is from one particular denomination. For not only do Lutherans and Roman Catholics use this style of dress, but Episcopalian and Orthodox priests, as well as some from other Protestant denominations.
Well, that's probably more than any wanted to know on the subject :) But for what it's worth....