Many of you have seen me wearing my clerical collar. I started wearing it not very long after I was ordained, but I don’t wear it all the time so many others have NOT seen it on me. Almost a year ago, I wrote about why I wear a robe in worship. Recently, a friend (and fellow pastor) saw me in mine asked that I write a similar post on them.
There are a handful of good reasons why I wear a collar.
First of all: It makes me recognizable as the pastor. When you go into the hospital, it is clear who is the doctor; when you walk into a courtroom, you can easily tell which person is the judge. They are wearing distinctive clothing that sets them apart. Likewise, when a police officer or a fireman comes to your home, you recognize them for who and what they are by the clothing they wear. So, when someone comes into the church-- or when a pastor visits someone in their home, at the hospital, etc.-- then he should be easily recognized as the pastor.
Which leads to the question, why can’t a pastor simply wear a coat and tie, or a suit? This brings up the second reason: It serves as the “uniform” of the pastor. Many professions have their uniforms, and it would seem odd for one to adapt the uniform of another. For example, it would seem strange for a court judge to start wearing a white lab-coat. When a pastor puts on a suit and tie, he is adopting the uniform of the secular business world. But I am NOT a business man; I am a pastor, and I ought to dress accordingly.
Contrary to popular misconception, the clerical collar is not Roman Catholic in origin. The current form of the collar (detachable) was actually invented in the early 1800s by a Scottish Anglican named Donald Macleodl however, its origins are actually thought to reach as far back as the 17th century as the daily street clothes of a pastor. It has historically been worn by Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and even Pentecostals, as well as Roman Catholics (who didn’t adapt the clerical collar as streetwear for priests until the 19th century).
Also, and to me this is one of the most important reasons: It presents me in the office I hold, not just as an individual. I am a pastor, not exactly because of who I am, but because of what God has called and appointed me to do. This calling and appointment has been verified by the local congregation I serve as well as the larger body (the Presbytery) that ordained me. When I show up for an event or circumstance that needs a pastor-- at the hospital, for example-- very often I don’t offer any real value as a person. When I show up in the capacity of my office, though, what I offer is the presence of something that is bigger and greater than just me: I offer the presence of a pastor. This is vitally important, and the clerical collar marks that capacity and presence distinctively.
Somehow we instinctively understand this; that fact brings to bear the next reason: it offers me opportunities for ministry that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Like many others who wear a clerical collar, I have been surprised at the number of times when a perfect stranger has approached me for prayer or counsel-- because I am wearing my collar. (Without exception, this has NEVER happened without it-- even when I have been introduced to someone as a pastor.) In the store, on the street, or at the hospital, I have had a number of occasions already where I have found this to be the case (and I only began wearing one last summer).
Similarly, it gives me access FOR ministry that I wouldn’t otherwise have. At least, I wouldn’t have it inherently. When I go to the hospital (without a collar) and identify myself as a pastor, then they are typically cooperative and allow me to visit my congregants wherever they are. When I’m wearing my collar, however, I don’t have to explain myself or make special requests-- I am instantly granted access to wherever I want to go. (I’ve joked with the son of one of our church members, who works at a local hospital, that my collar gives me as much access as his key-card!) This is true at a nursing home or funeral parlor as well. The benefit here is that, in moments that are timely or somewhat awkward, the collar answers questions before they need to be asked.
Finally, it “completes” my representation of the church. I’m firmly convinced that the pastor is always the public face of the local church. Regardless of whether he intends to be, the community around the church will regard him as such; this is a big reason why we have big problems church-wide when one of our pastors commits a significant act of indiscretion, no matter whether it would normally be “private” or not. Wearing a collar reminds others of this, and it reminds the pastor of this, too: I am conscious of the fact that I am a representative of the church more when I’m wearing my collar than when I’m not. (Some might argue that this would be a reason for all Christians to wear a uniform, which might be a bit odd; I don’t think it quite goes that far, though I think uniforms do have that benefit.)
A fellow PCA pastor in St. Louis has written a very helpful article about this, entitled, “Why I Wear a Minister’s Uniform.” If you read it, you’ll see that I share a lot of these reasons in common with him. That’s not simply because he and I agree, but, I believe, more because these things are all true of clerical collars.