In two weeks I’m going to visit my internship congregation for the first time. Truth be told, I’ve been to St John’s by the Gas Station (not its real name, as you might have guessed) before in my previous capacity as a sales representative for a certain Lutheran publishing house, but this will be my first appearance as the soon-to-be intern. I’m quite excited.
So yesterday I shot off an email to my internship supervisor and asked, "Will I be wearing clergy shirts while on internship? If so, I should probably wear one when I visit in a few weeks. I don’t own any clergy shirts any longer, so I’ll have to go out and purchase a few . . ." My supervisor told me that I should be prepared to wear clergy shirts on Sundays, but that the midweek attire is generally business or business casual. That works for me.
But then it struck me – my question itself is probably odd. Most seminarians coming out of their second year of seminary already own several clergy shirts and the question is not "will I be wearing clergy shirts," but "how frequently will I be wearing clergy shirts." The clergy shirt is a given for most seminarians.
For me the clergy shirt is not a given (pic stolen from the Augsburg Fortress website). Years ago I loved the clergy shirt – perhaps too much. I confess that enjoyed wearing it. It was an important part of my pastoral ensemble. Without the shirt I was a 23 year-old in seminary. With the shirt I was a pastor-to-be. It made a difference in me and in how others approached me. I even (foolishly) wanted to wear my clerics to my 5th-year high school reunion. Thank God my then-girlfriend talked me out of that misplaced demonstration of piety and pride.
Though I appreciate the meaning and symbolism of the clergy shirt, particularly in a Lutheran community, I am somewhat ambivalent about it. I can see the clergy shirt as barrier to pastoral conversation or, alternatively, an opening to pastoral conversation, depending on the situation. It’s a mixed blessing. (I wrote some thoughts about this back in September in a post called The Cross and Hospital Chaplaincy – thoughts which need to be revisited and revised after 8 months in the hospital. Nonetheless, I still agree with the fundamental thesis of that post.)
But the passage of time – and particularly time away from the seminary/Candidacy world – has helped me form my pastoral and professional identity apart from the focused, structured, four-year experience of the Lutheran Seminary and Candidacy. That is, though my preparation for ordination is bookended by a full-time, intense period of study at a Lutheran seminary (on one end) and full-time immersion in a Lutheran congregation (on the other end), in the middle of this formation I spent 8 years in other corners of the church and world. In those 8 years I have dabbled in two master’s programs (business and education), worked five full-time jobs – including two positions with church agencies – ended an engagement, got engaged, married and become a dad (twice!), and done lots of growing up. And I did – am still doing – a 9 month CPE Residency.
Though I have kept Lutheran questions and a pastoral perspective close to my heart over these years, I have also looked at life, church and the world from other angles. Over these 8 years I have attended church more often as a worshipper than as a leader, approached church questions as a lay person more than as a clergy person, and spent significant time with people not wed to the Lutheran mainstream, to Lutheranism, or to the church at all. These external influences – few of which I would have had in the traditional four-year scheme of formation at a Lutheran seminary – have been and will continue to be influential in how I look at church, the pastoral role, and my ministry.
Well . . . there’s much more to say on this topic – and some of it relates to a conversation here a year ago about about what it means to be Lutheran, and some of it relates to issues of pastoral identity and practice – and I’ll come back to it all very soon.