Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Good morning God,
Should ordained ministers wear clerical collars?
At one time of course, the question wouldn't even be asked - after all - what sort of ordained minister doesn't wear a clerical collar? Are they ashamed of the gospel, of their calling, of the Church?
Nowadays it is said that the collar 'gets in the way' of ordinary conversation - that it inhibits evangelism because people wont talk to ministers in collars.
Apparently it's not 'fresh' or "cool' or even sensible to wear a clerical collar at a family service or youth service, school assembly, cafe church, messy church etc etc...
Collars have come to be associated with all things stuffy, high-brow, liturgical, and - well - clerical!

It's starting to boarder on the predictable, isn't it.
Could the fact that the minister has started to wear light chinos and a polo shirt with a sweatshirt tied loosely around the neck or waist, be the first hint that congregation has that a fresh expression of Church may be in the offing?
Is the ministers preference for jeans to be understood as a preference for youth ministry?

Does it automatically follow that a cassock and collar means bells and smells in the service?

Isn't this all rather a shallow view of ordained ministry?

I made a deliberate choice to wear a clerical collar as a reminder to both myself and those that I meet that You are not absent from this world, and that my life cannot be lived without You God.
I choose to be marked out as different by what I wear because I own that by your grace and the Church's acceptance of your calling, I AM different - I am ordained.
It wasn't getting ordained that made me different, ordination is, in that respect,  just the confirmation of difference. You called me to dare to be different, to be set-apart to proclaim your gospel in word and deed with all that I am. Your calling was not just to minister to the saved, or to those it was safe to minister to, but to be a light on a hill, a public unashamed, in-your-face statement that YOU are here for whoever needs you.

I cannot tell how many conversations have not happened because I was wearing a clerical collar - but I can testify to the number of amazing conversations I have had. Conversations in hospital waiting rooms, airport lounges, on trains and on buses, in the hairdressers and cinema! I haven't had to do anything but be accessible. The collar has provided the prompt, given the permission, begged the question, created the link..acted as a means of your prevenient grace.
From my experience, I think I would want to say to those who insist that the collar 'puts people off' that perhaps what is off-putting' may have more to do with the person than with the collar!

As our Western world grows increasingly more secular, surely it becomes ever more important for the Gospel to be seen as a life-choice not just a private Sunday habit?  Whatever else can be said about it, the fact remains that when it is worn in the pub or the car park, the supermarket or the cinema, the train or the restaurant, the clerical collar does serve as a reminder that there are some who believe, who commit their whole life to that belief, and who choose not to hide that fact.


  1. I agree with your comments totally.
    The wearing of a collar is something I have struggled with because the collar makes a statement about you and I am aware that people notice it as I walk down the street and that they make judgements about me becasuse of it.I feel uncomfortable with being noticed becasue I'm not a naturally outgoing person. But I recognise that there are times when I need to be wearing it: it saves a lot of explanation about who I am and what I'm about when I wear it visiting or in school or to the hospital etc. I find that I'm losing count of the number incidents when people - strangers - have approached me and simply told me their life story - the collar apparantly marks me as someone who can be trusted with that information and will be prepared to listen.
    Does it have negative connotations as well? Yes - I have images in my memory from childhood of this rather scary man in black - I don't want to be that man.
    But - trust and relationships have to be earned and worked at whether in Church, at a fresh expression or elsewhere and it is the quality of the relationship that ultimately decides whether the collar is "off putting" or not. The collar is just a piece of plastic but it is endowed with several levels of meaning: There is the sort of corporate "this is who I am, what I believe and what I represent" and there is the personal relationship which says "this is me and I do it like this".
    I wear the collar whenever I am representing the Church (which I believe represents Christ) including leading Messy Church worship and our Messy congregation is growing, people do not seem to be "put off" by the collar - on the contrary people seem to regard me as approachable becasue of it.

  2. I enjoyed one encounter when I was just walking in the entrance of a hospital and a man came over very shocked and said "I have never seen a vicar in jeans before".

    I tend to switch around to try to encourage people to move out of unthinking comfort zones and reflect on who we all are and our callings. Plus I do where a clerical collar with more casual clothes like 3/4 trousers if it is warm. Oh and I like my denim clerical shirt the best :-)

  3. Really thoughtful- thanks.

    I tend to wear the dog collar when I am out and about in the community- in hospitals, schools, pubs etc, visits. It is a visible sign and marker. In my situation I think it helps that I am naturally scruffy, unshaven and have an earring- the juxtaposition seems to invite more questions and conversations.

    I don't wear it to synods, church meetings, meetings in houses etc. My personal reason for that is that in smaller settings it feels false almost putting on a show- if I trust you I dress casually. I think I was put off when first in ministry by what I perceived of ministers of another generation playing 'power games' in those settings- 'I have the collar, I'm in charge'. This is just a personal practice of mine and is not prescriptive.

    Plus- I don't like the fabric- makes me sweattoo much and I like the freedom of t-shirts, being open-necked etc. (probably too much info there!)

  4. Being a dyed in the wool liturgist from birth (I was born conservative Lutheran and baptised at 28 days old so I wouldn't go to hell if I died a baby), I am generally inclined to prefer the collar. However, I'm persuaded that it's not always a good thing. I doubt that any Methodist - male or female - in this part of Ohio has worn a collar in the last 200 years. And I don't think it would generally be a helpful thing in my chaplaincy work.

    There IS something about context and it can be hard to feel your way through. I agree, though, that it can open up conversations. I feel that my "Chaplain" badge has the same effect in the hospital - both for good and for ill.

  5. On occasion I have walked around the playground of our local secondary school with our Anglican vicar at lunchtime. He is in the school a lot in the playground, taking assemblies and lessons, and doing chaplaincy work. He always wears his dog collar, he never tries to dress as one of the young people. And yet these teenagers run up to him, some throw their arms around him and lots share a lot of personal issues with him. I think you are right to suggest that it is the person inside the collar that is the important thing, not the collar itself.