Wearing A Collar: Everyday Life of the Ordained, Part 1

By |2018-08-27T16:01:42+00:00March 4th, 2014|Categories: Anglican Leadership|Tags: , , |18 Comments

This series is an ongoing Q&A between Deacon Tish Harrison Warren (asking the questions) and Fr. Thomas McKenzie (answering) about ordained ministry. See the bottom of this post for an overview of the series.

When do you wear a clerical collar and when do you not? How do you decide?

The purpose of a clerical collar is to identify me as a priest/pastor in public.

This is, theoretically, helpful for the same reason other uniforms are helpful. If you see a lady walking up to your house with a box, it helps to know that she’s from UPS. If you are having a heart attack, you may want to grab the guy who’s wearing scrubs.

My uniform says “hey, if you need a pastor, there’s one right here.” It also says “I’m allowed to be here because I’m a pastor.”

The secondary reason for the clerical collar is to de-emphasize my individuality.

Clothing is used to signal so much in our society—income, education, class, political affiliation, sports preference, drug use, sexuality, etc. To wear something that should signal none of those, but simply says “here comes a priest,” is pretty counter-cultural.

I wear a collar on the days I’m working. That means I wear a clergy shirt Sunday through Thursday, Friday being my day off. Unless I have to perform some kind of clergy task on a Friday or Saturday, in which case I will put it on.

I keep a clergy shirt, along with some other things, in a bag in the trunk of my car. So, if I have to take an emergency trip to the hospital, etc., I have it available.

Since the collar is detachable, I might take it off when I’m alone. If you walk into my office I might have it off. Or I might take it off at the end of the workday but just leave the shirt on, which is not an attractive look.

I have found that the collar is sometimes helpful, sometimes off-putting, but usually neutral.

Sometimes it causes double-takes. It usually lets me walk into emergency rooms, skip the line at funeral visitations, and get quickly through security checkpoints. I’ve worn one most days of my life since 1998. I’ve noticed that less and less people seem to notice it. That may be because I am so used to it. Or it may be that fewer people know and/or care what it is. Probably a combination of both.

Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in a collar that you would do otherwise (example: like smoking cigarettes)? Why or why not?

My immediate response to that question was “of course not!”

After all, if you wouldn’t do something because you are wearing a collar, shouldn’t you not do that thing simply because you are a Christian?

Then I thought about it less defensively.

My wearing of a collar has, from time to time, prevented me from making angry gestures in traffic. It has also led me to give money to beggars when I wouldn’t have otherwise done so.

I have smoked one cigarette in the past 20 years, so I don’ think it affected that. When I smoke a pipe, which is not often, I smoke it regardless of what I’m wearing. The same could be said of drinking a beer.

All that said, there is one thing I have stopped doing while wearing a collar. I have stopped walking into public places with headphones on.

I love wearing headphones, white earbuds, because I like listening to podcasts or music, or making phone calls, while running errands.

However, wearing headphones with my collar seems counter-productive. A collar says “hey, I’m a pastor, you can talk to me if you need to” while headphones say “hey, leave me alone, I’m listening to something.”

So now, if I really need to have the headphones on, I leave my collar in my car. Otherwise, I try to remain present to the people around me while wearing my collar.

Everyday Life of the Ordained: Series Overview

  • Series Introduction

  • Part 1: Wearing a Collar

    • When do you wear a collar and when do you not? How do you decide?
    • Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in a collar that you would do otherwise (example: like smoking cigarettes)? Why or why not?
  • Part 2: Let’s Talk Vestments

    • Some lower church Anglicans are moving away from vestments while Anglo-Catholics have very strong feelings about particular priestly dress in the service. How have you decided what you wear on Sunday?
    • How about censers? You rarely use one. Why is that?
  • Part 3: Time, Life, and Family

    • You take off Fridays. Many other pastors take off Mondays. Why do you take off a day a week and how did you pick Fridays?
    • Are there work-hour boundaries or other “rules” you’ve put in place to keep a semblance of work-life balance or do you think that’s impossible with pastoral work?
    • In the years of little ones—you know when your kids were sick all the time and didn’t sleep at night and you had very young kids, how did you maintain sanity at home as someone in ministry?
  • Part 4: Let’s Talk Money

    • When you are a new minister or a church planter how do you decide an appropriate salary for a clergy person? How do you walk the line of being appropriately simple and not greedy but also not wanting your family to fear financial ruin if they get extra whip cream on their lattes (or whatever)?
    • As a church planter, how did you determine your salary?
    • Generally, how do clergy think well about their personal financial lives?
  • Part 5: The Pastor’s Personal Life

    • Should a pastor talk about his/her financial life or sex life or marital struggles publicly ever?
    • I’ve heard from some clergy say that you can’t or shouldn’t be close friends with parishioners. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
    • Can pastors be friends with people of the opposite sex? How have you and your wife decided what your boundaries will be for meeting with parishioners of the opposite sex or staff of the opposite sex? Why have you set those particular boundaries?

Thomas is a husband, father, friend, pastor, author, speaker, movie reviewer, and by grace alone the beloved of Jesus. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters. He was ordained in the Anglican Communion in 1998, and is the founding pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee.


  1. David Ould March 4, 2014 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    thanks for this.

    I’m ordained in Sydney Australia where we’re a very low-church bunch of Anglicans and collar-wearing is the exception, not the norm. I am, however, (and others here also) open to the idea of using it at the right time.

    One question immediately arises from your piece. It seems that the main argument you’re making is that wearing the collar makes it obvious that people can approach you for “pastoral stuff”, in which case my obvious question is “How often in your experience does that actually happen?”

    • Justin Baldwin March 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      David, I live in the Northeastern part of the United States. I would agree with Canon Greg that, in my experience of having lived there at one time, the South had plenty of inquisitive individuals asking me about my collar. Even in the Maryland/Delaware area I get a lot of constructive and valuable question. Most leave me be, but quite a few will talk to me about faith and the Anglican Church. The collar really is an opening for conversation.

  2. ggoebel March 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    Hey David, this is Canon Greg (not Fr Thomas who wrote above). My experience is that many times when I wear the collar here in the southeastern U.S. people talk to me about it, or about faith or church. That is, they do when I don’t seem to be in a hurry. If I slow down and seem open, people often ask “what church are you from?” Or “are you a catholic priest?” Or “will you pray for me?” Or just start talking about God. I’m not sure if that would hold true elsewhere.

    • David Ould March 4, 2014 at 8:03 pm - Reply

      hi Greg,

      Thanks for that. My impression from a coast to coast road trip across the States last year was that in the southeast people were much more open to Christian things. Our context is substantially different so I’m thinking through the implications.

      btw, wearing a clerical as I write this 😉

  3. ggoebel March 4, 2014 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks for reading and for your comments! Good to hear from an Anglican down under.

  4. samuel p. lundy April 9, 2014 at 11:32 am - Reply

    I am a chaplain to the voluntary fire service. I always wear a collar with my uniform in parades. It says to several thousand by-standers, “This department believes in God, enough to have a chaplain”!

  5. Joshua Bovis August 15, 2015 at 5:39 pm - Reply


    I have been meaning to post this link to you for a while.


    Gace and peace

  6. Mike August 20, 2015 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Please make your case for infant baptism, as it’s unScriptural just as the “sacrament” of confirmation. There were two ordinances (sacraments) given by Messiah, Baptism and Communion, in fact even the 39 Articles of Religion make this clear. It states:

    XXV. Of the Sacraments.
    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

    There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

    Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

    The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.

    If you be a protestant, I ask you why do you hold on to Romish tradition and not only baptise infants, but also carry forth a ceremony that has no Biblical mandate (confirmation)? I’m well aware what article 27 teaches in regards to baptism, but I question it when it states “The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”, as you don’t see this anywhere in Scripture. This is a Romish tradition, and we are protestants for a reason, We take G-d’s word over the traditions of man. If the Anglican church can speak out against purgatory, why can’t it speak out against infant/child baptism and confirmation? I return to the Articles, Article 34 states:
    It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
    Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
    I’m Jewish (from an orthodox background), and I’m all for tradition, however tradition must lie up with Scripture. Liturgical worship is kosher, however the church/synagogue that uses it must use it in light of Holy Writ, and not just based on the comfortable traditions that one is used to. Scripture deems tradition is a wonderful thing, Paul wrote “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by our letter.” (2 Thes. 2:15, TLV), but he was also the same one who wrote:
    You, however, continue in what you have learned and what you have become convinced of. For you know from whom you have learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to make you wise, leading to salvation through trusting in Messiah Yeshua. All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
    Yeshua called out the pharisees on their violation of the commandments for the sake of tradition, need I say more on the matter of tradition? Confirmation isn’t required, and infant baptism is contrary to Scripture, thus maybe it’s time for the Anglican Communion to return to Scripture, and ditch the age old traditions that are repugnant to Scripture, and keep that which is in agreement with Scripture (mind you what your congregation, and many others in the Episcopal “church” has done in regards to same-sex “marriage” is absolutely disgusting as it to is repugnant to Scripture, I’m so very thankful for the ANiA/ANiC). I love the Anglican Patrimony, the liturgy is really quite beautiful, but some of the traditions should be tossed. This is just one Pentecostal’s opinion, but I would love to hear why you hold on to certain traditions.

    Yours in Yeshua the Messiah

  7. Rev. Christy November 26, 2015 at 5:58 am - Reply

    The question of whether or not to wear a collar depends upon the circumstances. I wear my collar whenever I’m on the job serving God. For me, this means that I wear my collar 95% of the time. However, I don’t wear it to the gym while exercising, fishing, mowing the lawn, cleaning my house, going to bed, etc. When I’m not wearing it, I’ve got a set of clergy cloths in my “Go-Bag” ready for a quick trip to wherever. It all boils down to personal choice and calling. I think each clergy develops their own standards for wearing their collar.

  8. Ben Trowbridge September 24, 2016 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    I just came across your post and I have a question about the collar. I am a lay priest for an English-speaking service in South Korea, authorized by the local bishop to do so. Is it permissible for me to wear a collar? I feel like it would really make a difference in our community and for those i meet on Sunday. Though I understand that it has been traditionally reserved for those ordained, I feel in our particular environment it would be helpful. Thanks for your response.

    • Greg Goebel September 25, 2016 at 4:26 pm - Reply

      Hey Ben, thanks for the question. In our context it would be confusing for a lay person, even a lay pastor, to wear the collar. Sometimes ordination candidates will wear a collar with a black square in the front. Otherwise we don’t. I’m not sure how it would be perceived in your context. I would recommend wearing a cross necklace on the outside of your shirt. Hope that helps!

  9. Patrick March 19, 2018 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    While visiting Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) congregations I wear a blue cleric (blue is a traditional Protestant color in Scotland). It immediately identifies me as an ordained minister despite my southern American accent.
    Twice I have entered a pub after a service while still wearing the “dog collar” shirt (as they call it). Both times I had people approach me to talk about God and ask for prayer. I was a bit shocked. Scotland is the fastest secularizing nation on the planet and I have been told that the average Scot doesn’t want to talk about religion. The collar passively advertises that I want to talk about God and people do respond — even in secular Scotland.

  10. gary July 2, 2018 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    I see all of you are ordained priests. What about Deacons? Should we wear collars while serving Christ, traveling or commuting?

  11. clarabelle August 19, 2018 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    hey im an ordained minster and going to ministry school and i was wondering if its ok if i wear an collar. i thnk god has called me to do his work so i should

    • David Roseberry August 20, 2018 at 7:28 am - Reply

      I would say that you should NOT wear a collar until you have been ordained by your sending church or denomination.

      • Clarabelle Soney August 20, 2018 at 9:18 am - Reply

        Could you explain in more detail why not David roseberry?

        • David Roseberry August 20, 2018 at 10:25 am - Reply

          I think I’ll encourage the author of the piece to answer you. Stand by…

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