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The clerical collar and the message it sends

The clerical collar and the message it sends

While he understands that the collar is a loaded symbol, Sam Wells thinks priests should err on the side of wearing them. In the Christian Century, he explains why:

The collar says this one thing to parishioner and stranger alike: this conversation we’re about to have, this conversation we’re having, could be the most important one of your life. It doesn’t have to be—I can laugh, I can relax, I can have fun, I can just be with you in joy or in sorrow. But it can be. It may not be the right time for you, but it’s always the right time for me. I will never tell you I’m too busy. I will never make light of your struggles. I will never tell you that something more interesting happened to me. I will never say, “I know,” when you’re exploring a feeling for the first time. I will never change the subject when you bring up something that’s hard to hear.

I’ll never do any of those things because all of them in different ways are saying, “I’m out of my depth.” And what the collar is saying is, “I am someone who, however deep you wish to go, will never be out of my depth. You can trust me to listen. You can trust me to withhold my personal investment in the issues for another time and another place. You can trust me to be alert to the ways of God however strange the story you tell. You can trust me to know when some kind of specialized help may be in order. But you can also trust me to know that now could be the time for the moment of truth.”



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Bill Carroll

What I find odd about the thread is not so much the opposition to wearing collars, but the rationale offered by most, which seems to be close to a repudiation of the sacerdotal priesthood. All for baptismal ministry and full equality in the Body, but we are committed to the threefold ordained ministry as well. As I said, I don’t wear a collar most days, but so many of the objections here seem to be to the iconic, sacramental role of the priest as such and not merely to the collar. Do priests fail in their calling. Of course. All the baptized do. But priests, like the Body as a whole and every member of it, do represent Christ ane his Church. And we do continue, for all the flaws people have, to set some apart to represent Christ as pastor, priest, and teacher. I don’t think Fr. Wells meant to say any more than that in his meditation on what the collar means to him. The priest, like it or not, does serve as a stand in for Christ, with all the risks and advantages that entails. Again, not to diminish the baptismal priesthood, but to encourahe each and every one.of us to live it out.

Patrick Hall

Funny, I’ve read this whole comment thread and have seen two strongly worded posts by women about clerical collars. Hardly “a number.”

But if there is a Feminist point to make, I (ironically neither a woman nor a fan of isms) will say, it’s weird that we make women dress up like 19th century men as a sign of their priestly authority. I wish we could find a less sex-specific sign of office, that doesn’t re-enscribe the suspicion that priestly authority is inherently masculine every time a woman wears it. Of course, this seems to bother me more than most female priests I know, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here.

Clerical collars are the once ubiquitous detachable men’s collar turned around backwards. They are a relatively recent quirk of ministerial haberdashery (compared with, say, the cassock), and have never been designated as a uniform (same could be said for those eye-sore fuschia shirts bishops have bewilderingly adopted in the last fifty years).

John Farrell

First, wearing my collar is a sign of who I am, a priest dedicated to helping others. Second, I am astonished at the number of women here who seem so angry at the wearing of clerical garb. Is there a feminist point I’ve missed?


“The collar says this one thing to parishioner and stranger alike: this conversation we’re about to have, this conversation we’re having, could be the most important one of your life.”

Funny, I find having a pulse (and my modestly decent listening skills that pulse powers) conveys that.

Since it’s just about Thanksgiving Day, I’ll tell my favorite apropos clergy analogy: “Crazy Uncle John always likes to slice the turkey, and we let him”. Priests, you’re Crazy Uncle John: THAT is what your collar conveys! See y’all at the head-of-the-table come Sunday… 😉

JC Fisher

The Rev. JP Carver

It depends on the gender and the hair style. As a bald, white guy, the black shirt and collar, when not inside a church building, present a real barrier in my neck of the woods. I found that as a non-parochial clergy, wearing my graduation cross from seminary, and during Advent, a red nose and antlers on the car, provide for more entries to conversation. There are situations, however, when the black shirt and collar are very supportive, as when I answer a call as the Chaplain to our city police department. I haven’t tried the red nose, antlers, and collar together yet, but I may find the situation where it would work.

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