Discarding My Clerical Collar

Becoming Invisible

Dear Readers,

When I was an aspirant for Holy Orders, I was annoyed by clergy at our annual diocesan conference wearing their clerical collars, because I saw those collars as a mark of a club I wasn’t in. I told myself that if I became ordained, I would not wear a collar except on Sundays or when visiting people in the hospital. One of my seminary professors, however, shared a different perspective, describing her collar as “a sign of faith in a broken world.” Damn, I thought. Now I’ll have to wear one.

In my first ordained position as associate clergy, I took my cue from the rector, who wore his collar all the time, even at outdoor social events. Our parishioners saw me as less ordained than he was, so removing my collar would only solidify that, I thought. In my first nine years as rector of St. David’s, I figured the collar helped remind everyone (including me) who was in charge; and the collar definitely sped up the process of showing up at a hospital and trying to find a parishioner quickly. Still, I once answered the church door wearing my collar to someone who asked if the pastor was in. (I stared at him for a minute, then said “Nope, sorry.”)

Back in seminary, I was sure I would never wear the collar to places like the grocery store, but I didn’t think about stopping by a store on my way home or going someplace to grab lunch. The collar makes me more visible than I had ever been. People stare at it. Some are friendly but a few seem hostile. I appreciate plastic tab collars, as I can slip them off when running into the library or take out place and look like someone with a strange sense of fashion with a buttoned-up black shirt underneath normal clothes without being immediately identified as Female Clergy. As the years passed, I would forget I had it on until I saw my reflection or when people looked at it and then up at my face.

After my lung cancer surgery last year, the smallest things, like masks and clergy collars, make a difference in how well I can breathe, so I’ve stopped wearing a clergy collar at all except when I lead worship. Now that I am occasionally back out into the slowly reopening world, I’ve enjoyed slipping back into invisibility. No one notices me selecting a yogurt or bagel. After ten years, my parishioners don’t need an additional sign of my authority, but I hear my seminary professor’s comment about a sign of faith in a broken world. Even if I wear a cross, people don’t see it the way they see that pop of white.  And since I’m still wearing a mask in most indoor settings per my oncologist, people can’t see my smile.

I take deep breaths and am grateful not to have the pressure around my neck even as I wonder how my actions during mundane activities among strangers can be a sign of faith to a broken world.

Blessings, Elizabeth


What I’m reading:

Books:

I typically check mysteries and thrillers out from the library and then feel like I have to move them to the top of my TBR pile because they have a return date.

The Vanishing Point by Elizabeth Brundage. Solid thriller.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain. I enjoyed two of McLain’s other books, The Paris Wife and Love and Ruins, so was excited to see how she’d write a thriller. Loved it.

Writing (Fiction) as an Act of Faith by Elaine Neil Orr. Fabulous essay from a mentor and friend and helpful for all who write—including those of us who write sermons.


What I’m writing:

Connections Year B Volume 3. I have two essays in this final volume of a nine-book preaching commentary. (I wrote three other essays for another volume.) This time I had to venture away from my beloved Old Testament.

The Feast of the Visitation. My sermon from a couple of Sundays ago. I had a break last Sunday because my bishop preached.