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“What’s Up with the Collar Rev?” by Carla Van Delen

December 3, 2014

“I once heard of a pastor who was offering a series of children’s sermons on the symbols of the church. On one Sunday the pastor was speaking about vestments and asked the question, “Why do you think I wear this collar?” To this question came the response, “Because it kills fleas and ticks for up to 5 months.”

You may have noticed that I have been dressing a little different lately. For worship services and occasions when I am out in the community I have decided to wear a clergy collar. I do so after much thought and prayer (about seven years worth). I realize that the choice to wear a clergy collar has both pros and cons. For instance, I know that some people who have had a bad experience with clergy or the church might judge me by what I wear. For some the collar will be a hindrance to getting to know me and what I stand for. My collar will define me before they even know me. However we are living in a time where more and more people have no experience with the church. They might know that clergy wear a collar and might be intrigued enough to ask me some questions. The fact that I get so many double looks as I am out and about in Richmond says that for many people seeing a woman wearing a clergy collar is not the norm. Also we live in a multi-cultural world where seeing women in positions of authority especially within a religious organization is ground breaking. It may seem the norm for women to be clergy in the United Church but it is not the norm in most of the religious world.

It has taken me a long time to come to the decision to wear the “uniform” of the church. Within the United Church there is no dress code for clergy. Some clergy dress casual, scruffy, business casual, etc. Back in the eighties there was a shift to wearing secular clothes as a way of visibly saying that there was no difference between clergy and the laity. Over the centuries it was felt that clergy had been set above and apart (often on a pedestal) from the everyday person. Our culture has gradually seen a shift toward casual dress in the workplace and in our leisure time. Even doctors and nurses have taken up casual dress which may have made it difficult to discern who was coming into your examination room to take your temperature. Oh and just to be clear, even though we most often associate the clergy collar with a Catholic priest, the collar was in fact invented by a Presbyterian. However culturally, there seems to be a turn in tide toward reclaiming the uniform. A uniform is no longer a dirty word.

For me the collar is a symbol just like anything else. I realize that when I wear it some people will be happy because the collar symbolizes for them familiarity, comfort and stability. For others though it might symbolize stuffiness, self-righteousness and judgment. For me it symbolizes publicly my faith, my role in the church, and hopeful I will wear the collar in a way that says, “I am open to discuss faith and spiritually. “ Truly it is amazing that one little piece of white plastic can symbolize so much.

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