Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pastor Fashion

Shortly after I started at one of my seminary field placements, I was pulled aside by my supervisor and told that I "should probably start wearing a tie." He didn't elaborate too much immediately after, but when we next met for our weekly mentor-mentee pow-wow, he explained what he meant: "When I first started and I wore ties everywhere, one shut-in commented that it showed that I took her seriously." At the time, I thought this made sense. For the rest of my time there, on through the rest of seminary, and into my early days where I am now, I wore ties to all visits figuring that this "take me seriously" thing was true everywhere.

Now that I reconsider the story my supervisor told, I wonder if it was more a cultural or generational issue for that shut-in than anything else. Case in point: I switch to polo shirts for the summer months, evoking the only comment I've ever gotten about my pastoral wardrobe: "Oh...I'm not used to the pastor not wearing a tie." So for this older member it was an issue until I showed up the next time with my tie back on and he said, "You're all dressed up? I figured you'd want to be comfortable." So I guess he quickly acclimated to my non-tie-wearing.

You may be wondering where this is all headed.

It probably wasn't more than a few weeks after I was ordained that I started caring a little less what I wore to the office. Up until that point, it was ties if not just dress pants and a collared shirt or a sweater. Now if you stop into the office, your pastor is wearing sandals or sneakers, usually jeans, an untucked polo in the summer months or a casual sweater in the winter, maybe a UCC t-shirt. My new thing lately has been taking fashion cues from Dr. House, which makes me feel like a college professor more than anything else. I've not received one single comment about any of it, with the exception of my purposeful wearing of my Evil Skull Tattoo Shop t-shirt to choir practice, but again that was on purpose, and a couple people thought it was weird that their pastor was wearing a shirt like that, and then I was all like, "Mission accomplished."

Why shed the tie? Shouldn't a pastor be wearing suits and whatever? Well, in my I dress the way I do to emphasize my Regular Guy-ness. I also do it because the church and I have reached a certain comfort level where what I wear doesn't matter. But I mainly do it as one more piece of a larger goal to dispel the myth that pastors are all uppity high-collar non-Regular-Guy people that no ordinary person would really want to talk to. I get enough of that as a pastor anyway...I don't need to make it worse by dressing the part.

And besides, pastors should be approachable. Coffeewife once worked at a kids' psychiatric hospital in St. Louis. Wanna know who the kids preferred talking to? The employees in street clothes, rather than the ones dressed like they could administer medication or dock their level at any moment. So we, who are so often misrepresented by Golden Compass protesters, people who yell at homosexuals to repent or burn, and others who so often define themselves more by what they're against, are gonna make matters worse by dressing prim and proper so that younger people especially who are already in the process of writing off the church as self-righteous, boring, or irrelevant can just make their exits that much quicker?

The theological word is incarnation. I incarnate a particular thing by wearing a tie. Granted, for some members of an older generation I'm incarnating a form of church that they know and love and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with. I incarnate another particular thing by avoiding a tie, and particularly to younger people it's a church and a Jesus who's interested in other things besides how you're dressed.