The idea of clergy garb is kind of weird. Coming from a very “low church” tradition vestments, robes, collars, etc. were unheard of. Or actually they were heard of but they were something the Catholics did! (*gasp*) It wasn’t until I was in seminary that I even entertained the idea of wearing a collar. I interned at a church where we were encouraged to wear collars at protests as a sign of visibility. I bought a clergy shirt and wore it at functions where I needed to be public.
If you know me, you know that I rarely looked dressed up. Even when I am trying there is something about me that screams casual. I tend to use this juxtaposition when I wear the shirt with a collar. I’ll wear it with jeans and a baseball cap or with cargo shorts and converse sneakers. And yet I feel drawn to wearing the collar and I want to try to unpack a bit why.
On the one hand I think it’s a way to be visible as a person of faith, especially in contexts where it’s important to have people of faith visible. At protests or rallies, at court dates, etc. And as a queer person I find it important to wear to events like Pride or the Trans* march. I want to be a queer person who rocks the collar. In some ways it’s about reclamation. What does it mean to reclaim the tradition of wearing the collar in and among people for whom ordination has long been denied? And what does it mean to wear the collar in and among people for whom the church has seemed a place where they do not belong?
I also find myself being drawn to wearing the collar for more personal reasons. I know that I can too easily forget my calling when I am on the bus and get annoyed. Wearing a collar reminds me to treat people well, to be kind, to smile, to be available. (Maybe other people are less selfish and forgetful and so for them the collar isn’t necessary, but I need all the help I can get!) It reminds me that I have a responsibility to the community in which I live. When I wear the collar I am reminded of my calling which can be all too easy to forget in my daily life.
What role does a collar have in a horizontal community? Honestly I’m still trying to figure that out. Much in the same way as trying to figure out the role of preaching in that kind of community. But some initial thoughts: If we were to reclaim the collar, particularly in queer spaces, it might allow some folks to be seen as safe people when out and about. If I can be visible and known in my community, then people know they can come to me should they need pastoral care. We can also start to fight against the view that there are only one kind of ministers, that queer people aren’t ministers, that there is no place within the queer community for people of faith. I realize that visible symbols can be a double edged sword: While one person sees reclamation the other sees a reminder of past pain. I get that. But I think it might be a risk worth taking, realizing that it’s messy and will need to be handled with care.
It can be a tricky road for people who are trying to reclaim the best of tradition, leave the painful behind, and create a new future. It’s going to be confusing and fraught with error. And yet we do this because we know it’s important.