Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Clerical Uniform

"There are situations in which clothing is very important. I found this out by accident once, when I walked into a furniture store, coincidentally wearing the same sort of shirt as the employees. I had to leave because the other customers expected me to wait on them.

Clothing conveys a message. A business suit says, “Money!” A police uniform says, “Law!” A tuxedo says, “Wedding!” Casual clothing says, “Me!” Clericals say, “Church!” Any of those messages might be valid in different contexts, so you have to make sure you are wearing the right clothes for the occasion. If you wear a business suit in a department store, people will mistake you for the manager. If you wear a tuxedo to a ball game, they won’t ask you to play. If you wear a jogging outfit to a fancy restaurant, your clothing says, “I wandered in here by mistake,” and the staff will treat you accordingly.

The word clericals refers to the special clothing that clergy wear outside of worship services, usually consisting of a white collar on a black shirt...

If you are a pastor and you think you are aggrandizing yourself when you wear clericals, you’ll be disappointed. The congregation quickly gets used to the clericals and they see them as badges of service, not honor. Clericals put you in the same functional category as bellhops, waiters, police officers, airline pilots, and so on. We do not dress to please ourselves, or anyone else for that matter; our manner of dress facilitates our service. It makes our function obvious to strangers. It makes our duties inescapable, and it constrains our personal conduct, because we can’t disappear into the crowd when we are wearing clericals. Clericals mean that visitors don’t have to ask, “Where is the pastor?” They know just by looking.

Clericals also have other advantages. They communicate to the congregation that you are not a proxy child, a potential date, a worldly expert, or a bosom buddy. It allows you to focus on the job of pastoring, without slipping and sliding into those role conflicts and boundary issues your denomination keeps warning you about.

A friend of mine, who was ordained in the United Church of Christ, was required by his ministerial association to wear a clergy shirt with a tab collar while he was traveling. He thought it was a huge imposition on his personal liberty, until he obeyed. On the airplane, he heard a confession, reassured a frightened traveler, and calmed a terrified child. He was delighted that a routine air flight had turned into pastoral ministry. If you are clergy and you’ve never worn a clergy shirt to visit people in the hospital, you should try it. The clergy shirt means you don’t have to explain what you are or why you are there. The staff extends you all necessary courtesies, and even delirious patients know right off what you are. You can get in after visiting hours and quite often you don’t have to pay for parking, even if you’ve never been to that particular hospital before. Of course the catch is, you have to be on your best ministerial behavior the entire time you are there, so this is not something you should try if your self-discipline is weak.

If I called the police because of a burglary in my house, I would not be reassured if the police showed up driving a sports car with his kids in the back, and wearing jeans and loafers. If I am in distress because of a crime, I want the police to arrive in a police car and I want them to be wearing freshly pressed uniforms. If I have just been through a burglary, I don’t need a buddy, I don’t need a narcissist expressing himself in his clothing, I need a policeman. I need a policeman who will carry out the law, not his self-expression. I couldn’t care less about who he is personally; I called him as a representative of a greater force. Similarly, if I am on my deathbed, facing the greatest spiritual crisis in my life, I don’t want a buddy to come express himself. I want a properly uniformed and equipped minister of God who subordinates himself to his ministry, and who confidently and authoritatively represents God.

Our parishioners deserve nothing less."

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