On Vesting

Yes, that’s a verb.

I’ve worn a clerical collar for the past three days in a row. Aside from the fact that my neck itches, I’m thinking about clerical garb and its significance or lack thereof.

First, let me clarify that I’m not trying to fit in with my Lutheran and Catholic sisters and brothers in town, although they always look so spiffy in their clericals. I had a funeral on Wednesday (my favorite kind of funeral: a family gathered in love and celebration, laughing and telling stories to the point I had to reel them in so I could say the prayers of commendation). I met with the family on Tuesday, and I wasn’t sure what time that would be and I didn’t know them. Then today, I visited a congregant in a nursing home/rehab center. So I wore my collar for three separate reasons: Tuesday, I wore my favorite pink clerical shirt because I was meeting a family for the first time in my role as pastor and it’s sometimes jarring for people to find a twenty-something girl on their doorstep claiming to be the pastor when they expect an elderly man. Wednesday, I wore my black shell clerical under my powersuit that I wear for funerals. It looks very professional. Also a bit Matrix with the Mandarin collar. And today I wore the blue one under my cozy sweater so they’d let me in as “family” for visiting hours.

I started wearing the collar initially for hospital visits. Toward the middle of my first year of ministry, when I was in my third trimester, I got sick of receptionists pointing me to the maternity floor when I was calling on a congregant. Once I was all but thrown out of the VA hospital for trying to see a congregant in the psych ward. Apparently the business cards I print out of the computer don’t sway people, but the collar that any old joe schmo could buy online for ten dollars does the trick. Now when I walk into the hospital the lady behind the desk says, “Yes, Reverend, how may I help you?” It’s a far cry from, “Maternity is second floor, honey.” There’s something to be said for streamlining.

But all that doesn’t explain why I didn’t take the tab out of the collar while I was in public between official duties. I wore it to Spanish class at the community college (where one kid commented that it looked ‘dorky’); I wore it sitting for an hour working on my bulletin in Starbucks; I wore it to the grocery store; I wore it to pick up and drop off my kid at day care. and I do that, when I have reason to wear it otherwise, for several reasons.

1. No matter what nineteen year old boys say, I don’t think it’s dorky. I think it’s almost sexy.

2. I’ll admit it, I kinda like the double-takes. Sometimes respect, sometimes disdain. But they’re fun.

3. Most importantly, I consider it reclaiming the symbol. Or maybe claiming it for the first time. People just don’t associate young, moderately attractive women with clerical collars. Or women holding toddlers on their hips. Or women sipping lattes and typing on laptops. Or women protesting for civil rights (because that’s of course the other place I wear my clerical). It’s like my throat is screaming, “that’s right, boring old conservative male types don’t have the corner on clergy-hood. Us young girly liberal types can do it too.” Every time I respond the the confused question, “um, excuse me, but what are you?” or see a young girl’s eyes get really big or see a cocky nineteen-year-old who thinks clericals are dorky do a double-take because he’s never seen one on a college campus before, I feel like I’m evangelizing. Claiming some ground. Spreading some grace space. Opening a mind here and there to the possibility that maybe Christianity and the clergy are not so easily categorized as one might think.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect symbol, or one that should be used to get you respect in the grocery check out line. Realistically, half the people doing double takes probably don’t even recognize the symbol and just wonder if I have my shirt on backwards or something. But there are times and places where breaking out of the stereotype precisely by claiming membership in the group and yet being so different from the expectation is not only fun, but a necessary and beautiful thing.

I’m also told clericals come in handy traveling. Get you through customs faster. I haven’t tried that one, though.

6 thoughts on “On Vesting”

  1. Ahem…I do think that the collar is sexy.

    I think its a great idea to wear something that identifies you as clergy.

  2. I can’t decide if reading what you write makes me miss you more or less…Someday Jeff and Jack and Peter and I will have to surprise you at church so I can hear you preach again.

  3. Funny thing about wearing a clerical collar and forgetting you have it on because it feels kind of natural…

    I went to Ikea following a funeral (what can I say? Proximity is everything!) and had some pretty cool conversations with folks – one of them being the cafeteria lady. It has opened more doors to faith conversations than anything else in my life.

    I also love hearing the murmurs sometimes…hearing people whisper to one another, “I didn’t know women could do that!” I don’t know if they’re confused and think I’m Catholic, or if they’re simply confused because I’m a female minister in the south. Either way, I join you in relishing the symbol shouting against stereotypes.

    That said, I’m curious…you have an Anglican collar in your photo. Do you also wear a Roman collar on occasion? Any reason for choosing one other the other? I simply went with what was on sale ($19 for the short-sleeve Roman shirts!) and wonder if you put more thought into it 😀

  4. @Sarah,

    It certainly does open up a lot of conversations. Here in my new appointment, I wear them a lot, so that I can just walk up to people and say, “Hi I’m Becca” and let them fill in that I’m the Pastor, since folks here aren’t big on calling me Pastor Becca like they did at St. Paul’s. Helps me stand out in a crowd and meet people in town/for networking purposes.

    Now I didn’t know that one was anglican and one was roman. I call them a band collar and a tab collar, and I put some thought into them, but not much.

    I initially bought the tab kind, because they were most recognizable and what I was used to. Then, however, I bought a band collar and a couple of shirts (including the one in this photo and in the photo with my Matrix suit), because they have a cleaner line (no button front) for under jackets. Also, not all button shirts are comfortable for me without a dozen safety pins and that gets annoying.

    But now, I mostly wear band collars for another reason. You can take *any* button-front shirt, as long as it has a top button (not a V at the top) and convert it. Simply sew one button to the underside of the collar on the back on the shirt (it’s hidden when you wear the shirt normally and the shirt collar is folded down. To convert to a clerical, flip the collar up and in, roll the front so the button is exposed, and use that front button and the one you sewed on the back to affix the band collar and presto! Insta-cleric! I don’t think I’ll pay $50 for a clerical shirt again, just find button-ups that I like in colors and cuts that are flattering and sew in extra buttons. 2 shirts in one!


    1. Dear Becca:
      Just ordered some clergy blouses in preparation for being ordained in June. They come with band collars. I have spent two nights trying to put the collars on the blouses – supposedly the plastic is supposed to fit over but only one half does and the other half does not. I have figured out that the collar has to be attached to the back first before putting on the blouse and buttoning it up, but once I put the stud through the front, the other half will not go over the other half of the cloth collar. Would you have any hints? They would be much appreciated. (Even my husband tried to put the bands on and gave up which is unusual for him).


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