Thursday, 8 May 2014

Collaring Within the Lines: More on Retirement and Things I Would, or Would Not, Do Differently


This is a rather naughty doodle concerning how collar height and the position of one’s neck within it might correspond to one’s title (we Anglicans like our titles) and level of importance in Anglican heirarchy. If one wears the wrap around full collar, the height may also indicate one’s theology. The higher the collar, the more evangelical and low church. The lower, or narrower the collar, the more Romish.

We Anglican clergy do tend to wear clerical collars. Some of us all the time and some not so much. I did at first because I could, I was excited to be newly ordained and I enjoyed the novelty of swanning about in "clericals." I began with tab collared shirts in black, navy and trendy oxford cloth in pale blue.

Then I graduated to the Clericool neckband collar that goes all the way around my neck; like the collars above, only mine were a modest and Anglican via media inch and a half high; like a halo that has slipped, as one wag put it. Tab collar shirts were expensive and stipends were modest, so I started buying my shirts from Value Village for $5 each and Jude, my wife, took the collars off and set them up so I could wear my Clericool neckband clergy collar studded to them. An added bonus was that at Value Village I had a huge selection of colours and patterns. As my more sober dark blue and black shirts wore out, they were were replaced with coloured, patterned ones (see my Full Easter here). Black seemed too funereal. Heavy. I would be "hip" and unique—colourful and cool.

After a while, however, I bought into some adverse ideas about clergy collar wearing; too many negative connotations, some said, nothing but symbols of abusive power, of boring, outmoded Christendom, especially when worn with black shirts. Those who wear them are hiding behind them, some believe. I have to confess I never felt particularly hidden when I was collared. Try walking down the street in one and see how hidden you feel. So my collaredness became less frequent.

For the first half of my ministry I was blessed with some modest growth in the parishes I served which seemed to suggest that God might be liking my only occasionally collared colourful approach.

Here's where I think I went wrong. The shirt colours and not wearing a collar was all about me, about me expressing myself; "Look at him, what a cool clergyman, he's out here with us."

If I was starting out again, I think I would work collared all the time, not because I’m superior, but because of the office I bear. Rather than expressing myself, I need to express The One I serve.

The Right Reverend Kelvin Wright, Bishop of Dunedin, New Zealand (where I once went intending to become a Presbyterian minister and where I met, Jude, my wife, through which The LORD made me an Anglican by marriage—but that’s another story) puts it well in a blog post about wearing vestments during worship:
I don't stand up in front of people in my own right. I do it in the name of the church, which has, for better or worse, decided that I am a suitable person to perform acts of ministry on the church's behalf. And in token of this, I am vested; that is, my own identity is masked. It is hidden within the garments which represent to the congregation the church's history and the Gospel out of which that history has grown. Take, as an example of ministry, the absolution that I pronounce most Sundays. I, obviously, have no ability to forgive anybody's sins. What I do have is the authority to pronounce the truth of God's forgiveness, given by Jesus to the apostles. One of the signs that I am not speaking on my own behalf is the clothing I wear. 
Masks and signs. I think much the same could be said about wearing clergy shirts and clerical collars.

So, for the last few months before I retired, I wore my collar every working day, my own identity symbolically masked and as a sign that I was not speaking or acting on my own behalf.

I'm a recently retired (a whole week!) collarless Anglican cleric. For now.