I went through my first year of ordained ministry wearing my collar every day. I did so intentionally on the advice of a couple mentors who recommend wearing it daily for the first year so I would then better understand when to wear it and when to go without. At the beginning of the experiment I “knew” I didn’t want to be a daily collar wearer. Nope, I just “knew” I would be a priest who only collared up when I was serving in a liturgical or sacramental capacity. Sure, there would be those gray areas of pastoral interactions or evangelistic opportunities – but all in all, I’d “made up my mind.”
(Isn’t it cute how we know so much when we’re fresh out of seminary?)
And then I was ordained and launched into this grand adventure. There were arduous days of paperwork and emails when I pulled at my stiff, plastic collar thinking, “this is so unnecessary.” There were days when I walked downtown forgetting it was there only to be met with stares and sideways glances. There were days that it felt like it was God’s hand on the back of my neck reminding me I wasn’t alone. Then there were days when I would be reminded of who I am by virtue of my office and it would help me to alter my behavior or language because of that physical reminder.
Somewhere in the course of that year I discovered that I am actually an *almost daily collar wearing priest. The funny thing is, while the black shirt and white collar immediately identify me as a clergywoman to the outside world, I rarely wear it for them. I wear it for me. I wear it on days that I need to remember my role as priest. I wear it not because it makes me better than anyone else, but because it reminds me to be my best self – to be the woman God is calling me to be.
There are still days when I wonder if I should put on a collar. Painting with the Thursday afternoon formation class? Leave the collar home. Spending the day updating calendars and emailing with parents. Wear the collar. Meeting a parishioner for dinner? Depends on the context of the situation. Going to the state house to lobby for equal wages for youth workers? Wear the collar. I have begun to recognize the signs – both inside and out for when I need to bust out that lovely piece of plastic.
But then there are situations like today…
I am writing this from the jury assembly room at the Middlesex Superior Court. Hooray for civic duty! I’ve been anticipating this day for weeks and have debated back and forth whether or not this should be a collar day. I know the collar is polarizing in some cases – so wearing the collar could bias folks in one way or another based on their context and history. I’m not sure which way it would bias them and so part of me feared being immediately excluded for wearing it while the other part of me contemplated if I would be chosen over others by virtue of my calling.
Those who know me know I am terrible at making decisions – especially minor, seemingly trivial decisions. Every decision is earth shattering to this ISFJ. The pros and cons list ends up being tremendously long and usually quite even. This was no different. I can think of 100 reasons why I should or should not wear the collar to jury duty. But I cannot escape the fear I will be seen as “using” that symbol for something other than it was intended. My friend Scott voiced that concern perfectly on the facebook status I posted to solicit feedback to aid in the decision-making process: “Whatever you do, don’t compromise your office to exert privilege from a symbol of the church.” I do not want to be seen as trying to use my priesthood as leverage – ever.
My calling as a priest is to a unique, sacramental ministry. My calling means that I often wear a visible symbol of the church I represent. My calling took years to accept and will take a lifetime to live into. My calling puts me in a position of authority, which is a humbling and awesome responsibility.
I wear my collar most days; often to remind myself who I am and what has been entrusted to me. I wear my collar most days, but not today. There are days when I should wear my collar in the world to serve as a reminder to others that the church is active and relevant – even today. But wearing my collar today, in this room, would not be seen as such. Wearing my collar today would be wearing a neon sign that says “I’M A PRIEST!!!” It would be screaming for attention in a room where my job is to blend in as a randomly selected peer. There are doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, parents, cashiers, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Universalists, etc… sitting here and none of them are wearing neon signs. I couldn’t categorize these people even if I tried and that is the point. I was worried that leaving the collar home would be a denial of what I am – but a piece of plastic doesn’t dictate my identity. I know who I am and so does God. If justice is blind than she couldn’t see my collar anyway. She can see what is in my heart and that is the place where my priesthood is seeded.