(Clerical) Suit Up!

The dog collar. The flea collar. Clerical collar. Roman collar. Tab Collar.

Whatever you call it, the stiff white collar worn by many clergy (most often with a black shirt) is funny looking. Many pastors and priests have abandoned clerical collars. They are too formal. They make us (clergy) look different than everyone else - and we want people to know that we are just like them. Clergy want to seem more approachable, more relaxed, more laid back. We don't necessarily want to be connected to institutional religion in an age when people don't trust institutional religion.

All good reasons to abandon the clerical collar. And yet, I remain someone who wears clericals more often than not. I have outlined before some reasons why I do so. However, the greatest reason is this: I want people who are looking for a representative of God / the church to be able to find me; and to find me easily.

But, you may say, people don't really go looking for a representative of God or the church. And most of the time you are right. But when people get to the end of their rope, when people start feeling overwhelmed they do. Or, to put it another way, people do not start looking for someone in a clerical collar until their need is great.

The analogy I've always used is police officers. If I am in need of help, I am much more likely to look for a police officer in uniform than I am a police officer in plain clothes. Granted, it is not often that I am looking for a police officer. But when I am, I need to be able to find one as soon as possible.

So too, clergy. It is may not be often that a person is looking for a pastor, but when they are they often need to be able to find one as soon as possible.

Yesterday, I went to the hospital and visited with a member recovering from surgery. Walking out of the Critical Care Unit to go visit with the family in the waiting room, a young woman stopped me. "Will you be in the hospital long today? They are taking my Dad off life support today."

I told her I would be back. I went and visited with the family of the congregation member who went through surgery. I went back into the Critical Care Unit, and met the young woman's mother and her father. We prayed together. We cried together.

We watched as the ventilator tube was removed from the man. And then we sat together some more. We talked about God and suffering and pain. We cried some more. We prayed some more.

I spent about 3 hours in that room - because I was wearing a collar. They were experiencing the long dark night, and they needed - desperately - someone who could speak with them about faith and God, someone who represented the church. And I was the guy in the funny looking collar.

There is no argument that can outweigh my experience with that family yesterday (and others I have had like it).

And so, in the words of Barney Stinson, I will continue to "suit up."


  1. I like when clergy "suit up". As you say, you are easier to find and I thing receive the respect due to the profession.

  2. Another reason: to provide an antidote to those who have besmirched the collar. Years ago I worked for a priest who collared up (that's what I call it!) more than usual during the height/depth of the Roman Catholic priest (yet another) scandal in 2001. The nasty looks and comments he received, while painful, also provided an opening for him to engage in prayerful conversation.

    As a clergy wife, I'll tell my husband to collar up when I know we're going into certain situations/environments: http://bit.ly/WW89Db

    1. I love your "Life as a clergy wife" series, Meredith!

  3. I wish we associates in ministry had a similar outward sign. What a blessing it must have been for you to have been there for that family.

  4. David - Thanks for the post. I personally think it's great when pastors do wear the clerical collar and you are right that more and more seem to be getting away from it. I can't tell you how many of my Presbyterian clergy colleague don't have one or look at me funny when I do. I don't wear it all the time but do wear a collar on first Sundays of the month, weddings and funerals. Contrary to popular belief I believe that people are looking for a representative of Christ in their lives.

    Byron Wade

  5. I have had so many similar experiences including women who have been hurt by misogynist attitudes in some churches -- theirs -- who could come to me, a clergyWOMAN wearing that 'dog collar' but would never have approached a clergyMAN. It is a blessing to be able to be present to folks in real need. The collar is both a burden and a blessing which I wear -- proudly and humbly -- and I would not have it any other way.

  6. I wear the collar most of the time. I see it as an invitation. If people are angry, they can vent and we can start a conversation, but more often than not, people ask questions.
    By wearing the collar we represent Christ in the world and sometimes people just need to be reassured that they are loved and welcome.

  7. I was called to the ministry over 10 years ago. I started with prison ministry but this year was called to join the staff at my church. I have had reservations for years because we are required to wear a collar on the first Sunday and to sit in the pulpit every Sunday. I never liked the idea of feeling like we were "higher" or better than anyone else in the church. I refused any title as well and just went by my name until one Sunday before I was about to preach in the prison an inmate approached me and said "thank you pastor, you have taught me a lot since I have been here". I realized I was leading them to Christ. I was their pastor whether I called myself that or not. It didn't make me "better" than them, it simply identified my role. As a body of Christ there is a reason the leg looks different from the stomach or the nose looks different from the ear, they have different talents and different functions. I am about to purchase my first collar this week and it is simply to identify to others what God has called me to do in service to Him. Just like the nose is just as necessary as the ear it doesn't make me better or worse than any other member. May the Lord bless you is my prayer.