Comment of the Day

Beth writes,

Me, Episcopal priest, 23 years. I promise that if you need the collar for authority you don’t have the authority for this work. And if the work your doing is supported by a collar you are still in the shallow end of the pool. Come on in the water is fine.

Bag the collar, discover God’s real power with you — you, the beautiful, strong, noble, and free woman you were called to be. Bag the collar. It will only compromise you.

That’s a strong witness! Thank you, Beth, for offering it. What do you think, gang?

20 Replies to “Comment of the Day”

  1. What about the idea that the collar isn’t for YOU, but is for other people? For example, ministers choosing to engage in peaceful protests or other social justice work, who choose to wear the collar. It is a striking visual; an outward signal of religious authority in support of social change.

    What about going down to Arizona to protest the immigration bill; would a minister standing with their congregation have a different impact if they were wearing a collar?

    Food for thought…

  2. I think she’s right on.

    Doesn’t mean I want to ditch the collar. It can be VERY comforting for people. For example, seeing a collared priest walk into a hospital room can bring the anxiety down (or up but that’s YOU). It can simply make things easier. However it doesn’t GIVE you any authority if you haven’t already earned that authority.

    It’s rather like titles. I have known many priests who insist on being Reverent, Pastor, whatever. However, the most effective priest I know just goes by his/her first name. They don’t need the title to give them authority.

    That said, there are places for the collar, places when it says something very powerful. A protest march in a collar says in no uncertain terms that the church is there. A collar at the graveside says in no uncertain terms, I’m the one you can look to, and lean on, even if you’ve never seen me before.

    But she’s right, and frankly, for everyday work I doubt I will wear one. For big stuff, well then it’s uniform time.

    Senior Seminarian

  3. First -many people in the world do not recognize a collar for what it is – on a woman. They just think it is a fashion choice. She is right about internal authority – if you are trying to get if from a collar – you are lost already. But in public settings, demonstrations, etc – it is a sign that the church is here and in solidarity. It helps with getting into hospitals to visit those you serve. For me it reminds me that I am a priest and my actions and words transmit something to those around me. Sort of like a dog on a leash – my owner is God (not the bishop or the church) though. And then there is the little boy who asked did it have the words “kills fleas for 6 months” on the inside?

  4. I totally hear you, but as a young soon-to-be pastor, I appreciate the opportunity to use the collar. Not for authority, but my experience is that it helps people to easyly identify me as a pastor. I do look young, and when I show up on peoples doorstep, they don´t have to wonder if I´m a girlscout out selling cookies.

  5. I think in general Beth is right on. And it extends beyond the collar. I’ve met ministers young and not quite so who insist on the prerogatives of ministers, how they’re addressed, etc. Often without the hoped for effect.

    In general if we need the external marks of authority, well…

    And there’s a time and place for such.

    As a UU clergyperson I do not wear a collar as part of my normal work. But in the spirit and concrete example Sarah cites, I am going to Arizona to stand with others against the harsh treatment of undocumented people at the end of the month, and I will there wear a collar. So that people know there is a minster, and hopefully one among many, many others easily identified as clergy, all witnessing for something quite important.

    I understand women, particularly young women have to deal with different visual cues than a quickly aging gray haired man of, shall we say, substance. And I’m all for doing what it takes to own one’s authority. And perhaps there are times for those collars beyond wanting to stand out in a crowd.

    Still, I would encourage giving most attention to one’s inner life and the cultivation of various competences in leadership as rather more important than relying too much on collars or other outer symbols…

    Two cents while supposedly working on a sermon…

  6. I agree that if you don’t have it, a collar won’t give it to you.

    I agree with the collar being useful as a way to say that a religious tradition is present–so many times religions are involved, it seems, in things that are less than positive. That’s what we see in the media, at least. So it’s nice to see a collar somewhere we may not expect to.

    I also find comfort sometimes in seeing the collar on a woman.


  7. Me, Episcopal priest, 23 years. I wear a collar to work most of the time. I’d totally agree that it doesn’t give me any more authority than I have by virtue of what’s inside me, but it opens doors, lets me be quickly identified, represents my particular ministry, and reminds me in a physical way of my calling.

    I work in a parish and as a school chaplain, so the “quickly identified” part is important on a day to day basis; parents who have not previously met me often approach me because they can tell even from a distance who I am.

    There’s also a practical aspect on both parish and school side of things: I never know when an emergency is going to arise where a collar may be a useful “tool” and this way I don’t have to think about it. When a house burned down a few doors away from the church, on several occasions when students have needed to go by ambulance to the hospital, when a parish member is in the ER…none of those were on the calendar for the day, but I was dressed in a way that let all involved know in an instant what I was doing there.

    It’s certainly not a costume to hide behind–there needs to be substance to back it up!–and I can function perfectly well without it just as many clergy do, but a collar does have a purpose for me. I don’t feel compromised at all!

  8. I think that it can be a helpful tool but after ten years I wear it increasingly less often. In my hospital work it is not so helpful I find.

  9. I always leave conversations like this one wondering, “Are we going to dump every uniform?” Police officers, medical professionals, fire fighters, the judges robes…we, as a society, already seem to have abandoned appropriate/professional attire in many situations.

    I completely agree that anyone hiding behind the collar or gaining their entire pastoral identity from it, need to do some more work before accepting a call but I think there is a place and reason for a collar. I often think people who just can’t bring themselves to wear one are hiding from something as well.

  10. A colleague of mine (a real kick-down-the-barricades type) once said, “I wear my collar because it pisses off the conservatives AND it pisses off the liberals. And in the predominately RC neighborhood in which I live, it tickles me no end when someone passes me on the street and says, ‘Good morning, Father!'”

  11. A collar communicates so much more than just authority. Those things can also be communicated in other ways- to those I’m already in relationship. But it is a visual clue to those who dont’ know me- who see me marchign in a Pride Parage, a protest, as a woman, and a Queer woman on the street- that God is for them too. I’ll never give up the conversations that get started because of my collar.

  12. I might be in the minority here, but I hate it when ministers who don’t normally wear a collar conveniently don it for political purposes. Then the collar is used as a prop, a costume. It becomes less about me being a servant of God and more about God thinking just like I do on a certain issue – “God’s on my side/our side,” the collar then communicates. Maybe, maybe not.

  13. If you’re relying on the collar for authority, you don’t have the authority for the work — OK, I hear that and it makes sense to me.

    But “Bag the collar, it will only compromise you”?

    Would you say “Bag the wedding ring, it will only compromise you” to a married person?

    They are both symbols.

    Neither can magically endow you or your relationship (with God, the church, your spouse) with authority or security that isn’t already there.

    Both can function symbolically to support those relationships. They symbolize something to the person wearing them, and to the community encountering them.

  14. I wear mine all the time, except for my day off. It does not wear me. It is for others.

    Often when I visit our more evangelical brothers (and they mostly are brothers) who refuse to wear them I wonder why they got ordained. Why not be a good lay person working for the church if you don’t want to be identified with the priesthood?

  15. This has been a great discussion – very helpful and interesting points made. I have never worn a collar – it is not for me – but I respect those who do. Maybe it is because I came late to the ordained ministry – I don’t know. What I do know is that (1) I dress appropriately for the occasion (and thanks PeaceBang for keeping me on track and giving me ideas I never would have contemplated myself) and (2) no one has ever queried my lack of a collar (and believe me if it was an issue I would have heard all about it!!)

  16. THAT’S a “strong witness”? I beg to differ. In my experience strong witnesses usually aren’t quite so nauseatingly presumptuous about other people’s experiences, motivations, and systems of meaning. Yuck.

    Listen, if the collar doesn’t work for you, great. Rock on with your non-collar-wearing self. Really! I promise I won’t consider your collar-free ministry to be compromised in the least. But please, extend that same courtesy to those who do wear the collar and do find it helpful/meaningful/important/whatever.


  17. Ditto.

    I find it a bit insulting that someone would assume that I have issues with owning my own power because I wear my clerical collar.


    For me, the clerical collar is part of the uniform of service. Service not to myself but for others in obedience to the call that brought me to the “collared life” in the first place.

    I’ve brought my collar – or you could say the collar has brought me – to places where the church’s presence is needed and (all to often) where the church’s voice has been silent. My collar is not comfortable, but I’ve known it to bring comfort to others.

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