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
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.