Monday, April 23, 2012

The Swing of the Pendulum

Okay. This blog post is going to make me look like a chump. I'm telling you this up front because I want you to see that I'm acknowledging that fact. And in case you're wondering why I'm writing this post at all when I easily could have posted a lolcat picture or something and just forgotten about the whole thing, I feel like I owe it to my readership to come clean on this issue, and you'll see why in a second.

During Holy Week, our ministerial association holds an ecumenical service. We don't robe, although the Catholic priest and Lutheran pastor tend to, anyway. The rest of us wear suits, more or less. So before the service, I went to my closet, pored over my rack of shirts, suits, and pants, and made my selection: my black pinstripe suit with purple dress shirt and silver tie. I looked good, I felt good, and I thought I was dressed well enough to help lead worship with my colleagues.

On Easter morning, I picked out my blue pinstripe suit with a green shirt and matching tie with both blues and greens in it. I wore my alb over it, but I thought the lighter colors went with the day and the season, even if nobody could see it.

Have you picked up on how I'm a chump yet?

If you haven't, perhaps reading this, this, this, and this will help.

Yeah. I'm back to wearing ties instead of collars. All those pixels spent on how clerical shirts are important to communicating pastoral identity, and in practice I'm going back on all of it.

When I walked into my closet the night of that ecumenical service, I admitted to myself that I'd become disenchanted with my clerical shirts. It's not about me, I know. But I began to realize a few things as I ran through my counterarguments for such thoughts, which are the same arguments I'd made in those earlier blog posts.

First: are these essential to where I'm engaging in ministry? My congregation doesn't require that I wear them. Some have expressed appreciation for them, but I think it's more appreciation for my claiming my role than the specific thing that I'm wearing. However you need to do it, my members have implied or outright stated, claim your authority among us. So for a while, wearing clericals was a part of that, a means to an end. The handful of my congregants at that ecumenical service didn't seem to notice that I'd broken from my collar-wearing ways, so this specific outward expression of my role wasn't a big deal for them. This was repeated on Easter, when the only comments I got about my appearance was how nice my shirt and tie looked.

Second: I've come to the conclusion that by wearing these shirts I was trying to embody someone else's ministry. I've mentioned collared pastors whom I admire from afar; how they make the collar work for them while still reaching a diversity of people. These were big inspirations for my beginning to wear them. I admire their ability to wear the collar but exude pastoral authority in non-stuffy ways. And so one of the things I was thinking when pondering the collar was, "Hey, these cool people wear them, and they're cool, and they're doing cool ministry things, so I'm going to wear them too!" That's probably been the shadowy side of this clerical business for me since I first started considering them. But after a while I realized that the collar isn't really authentic to what I'm about. In a sense, I was trying to be someone else.

Third, I think that I really did need to wear collars this past year. Swinging the clergy attire pendulum all the way to that side helped me discern certain things about my sense of call and identity, and claim them. Now that I have done so, I feel more comfortable in shirts and ties as an outward expression of that identity in settings that warrant them. I'm frequently the only one wearing a shirt with tie on Sundays, and that in itself can be a clergy shirt. I've come to a new appreciation for how important dress is as an outward mark of my vocation, and wearing clericals for a time was critical for that to happen.

This past year of wearing clericals was an important one to my growth and understanding as a pastor, and I'm glad that I did it with such intentionality in order to achieve that growth and understanding. I'm certainly going to keep these shirts around. There will come moments when I need to make hospital visits with minimal questions, for instance. I may even keep a few in my church office for such needs. And there will be worship moments when they still seem appropriate as well: I still wore a black clerical shirt both for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, for instance. I may wear the short-sleeved ones during the summer. They won't just hang in my closet collecting fuzz and dust.

But I can appreciate formal pastoral attire now in ways that I didn't before. That's the big takeaway from all this reflecting. This past year was necessary, but now I can allow the pendulum to swing back the other way a little to a place where I feel comfortable and authentic.