There's a great old Dilbert comic strip where the boss threatens to institute a "casual Friday" policy, requiring fashion-challenged engineers to wear something other than a white shirt, tie, and pocket protector to work.
When it comes to traditional "business" or "business casual" attire, I feel much like Dilbert and Wally feel about dressing casually, because I can't match a shirt to a tie to save my life. Though I am not technically color blind, I do poorly on those color dot tests. When I worked in fundraising and in sales, I would memorize which ties went with which shirts, and apart from the blue shirt with the red or blue tie – and khakis, of course – I was pretty bad. When shopping for shirts and ties, I would ask the sales associate to find shirt and tie combos, and I would buy whatever he or she put in front of me.
But now as a pastor I wear the "uniform" – a black clergy shirt every day. On Sundays and on visitations, I usually wear the "all blacks" – black clergy shirt and black pants. On most other days I'll wear the black clergy shirt and blue jeans. But either way I go with the black clergy shirt. It's just so easy for me. Nothing to match or coordinate. (The photo at right is not of yours truly, though I hope one day to be as thin as that guy. I grabbed this image from the Augsburg Fortress website.)
I do accesorize – if you want to call it that. I wear a beautiful black and silver crucifix given to me by my internship supervisor and friend, Pastor Mike Magwire. I wear it both as a symbol of my faith and as a reminder of my friendship with Mike and the formation I experienced as I worked with and learned from him.
Yet I'm also a "company man," so to speak. When I go to Phillies games I wear a Phillies hat and jersey – I wear the "uniform" of a fan. In high school I suffered from a high rate of school pride, wearing to school my letter jacket and school colors – the uniform – on homecoming, days of big track meets, and other days of school pride.
So too in my work as a pastor. I wear the "uniform," even though the whole notion of a uniform for Lutheran pastors is on the decline. For many valid reasons fewer and fewer pastors wear clerics. Some associate the clerical collar with authority, a two edged sword for sure, used for good or for ill. Some feel it is too "traditional," a vestige of a church era that has long since waned, and thus has no place in the contemporary church. Some just don't like the way it looks, parkticularly women clergy, whose options for comfortable and attractive clerical shirts are few and far between. And in our culture where non-liturgical forms of Christianity dominate, the collar is something that only a few "brands" of Christianity embrace, anyway.
Recognizing all this, I continue to wear the clerics … and not only because of my stunted fashion sense and the challenge I have with coordinating colors (though this is significant!). For better or for worse the collar is a sign of the office of ministry. I wear the collar as a sign of my office, a symbol – however broken – of the work to which I have been called, the ministry with which I have been entrusted. I wear it for me.
I've heard some say that we who wear clerics do so for the attention and perks we receive. Perks? Really? More often than not, when I'm wearing my clerics out and around town I get odd looks and awkward glances … and the ocassional lengthy conversation about God, faith, and the meaning of life (which make those odd looks and awkward glances seem worth it). But no perks. Sorry.
For the few of you who have made it to the end of this post … what think you? If you are a pastor, do you wear the collar? If you are a layperson, what do you think about the collar?