I think, in part, this is because I was taught mostly by Baby Boomers who are largely ambivalent about authority and power, having rejected authority as youth but who now find themselves holding positions of authority within the church. Perceived as a symbol of power and authority, many shy away from wearing it or diminish its function as a sign of the office of ordained ministry. Somehow not wearing the collar makes them “regular people” – as if a guy in a polo shirt is guaranteed to be down-do-earth, and the guy in the collar is sure to be a stiff!
I like the collar for use by clergy in the context of parish ministry – not so much in hospital chaplaincy – and I have been wearing it nearly every day on internship. I don’t think I hide behind it, use it to define myself, or wear it to distinguish myself over and against others. But I do I wear it as a kind of discipline, a reminder of my office, a uniform. I have rarely received special treatment because of it – only once has someone asked if I was a Roman Catholic priest, and only once in the past year have I received a free cup of coffee on account of it. Rather than a benefit, I often get odd looks and stares. I’m sure for women it can be even more befuddling.
But I admit to knowing very little about its history or tradition of usage. So, I’m wondering – particularly for you pastors who are generally fond of the collar – under what circumstances do you wear the collar? When do you choose not to? To which church functions would you arrive dressed in clerics, and to which would you arrive in “civilian clothes”? And where the heck did these things come from, after all?