The issue of me wearing my collar has recently come up. I do not wear my collar every day. I wear it once a week unless I have a Seminary Chorus obligation. I normally wear my collar when I go to my field work at a Lutheran Senior Services (LSS) facility in north St. Louis. My supervisor said to wear it. He didn’t give a reason why, he just told me too. I think he did this so that I could recognize why I should wear it for myself. I have… in a big way.
For those of you who don’t know St. Louis… it is what some might call racially divided. South St. Louis is very “white” and north St. Louis is very “black.” This racial tension is a sad part of being in St. Louis. I have been in north St. Louis in just regular street clothes and I was just another white kid walking around, no one looks at you or talks to you. When I wear my collar people honestly treat me different. I have people coming up to me and saying hello and starting discussions themselves. It makes me more approachable. It opens doors. The older folks at my fieldwork site also have said that they like me wearing my collar. It helps people see (and understand) who I am. This is why I wear a collar. Some people have given me a hard time (not other sem students… but friends in the St. Louis area). I don’t wear my collar because it makes me feel special. I don’t wear my collar because it looks good. I don’t wear a collar because it is comfortable. I wear my collar because it opens doors that might otherwise be closed.
I’ll end this post with an article that was in this months edition of Around the Tower, the Concordia Seminary student publication (bad formatting is my fault). This vicar expands nicely on the idea that wearing a collar can be a very good thing.
By Rich Futrell
I’m only three months into vicarage, but a few weeks ago, as I entered a hospital for a visit, a lady approached me. Signs of worry and anxiety marred her otherwise peaceful face. “Are you a chaplain?” she asked. “I’m a vicar,” I replied, bringing a furrowed brow and a “What’s that?” expression to her face. “Close enough,” I recovered. “How may I help you?” The floodgates opened and tears welled up in her eyes. “My daughter is sick and may not recover.” “Let’s go see her,” I suggested, and we headed for the elevator. On the way, she told me of herself, her daughter, and how nearly five years previous the first signs of multiple sclerosis had surfaced in the then 17-year old girl. In little more than four years the disease had laid waste to her body. The woman, now 22, was suffering from a high fever, her body was immobile, and she was barely responsive. I said who I was and shared a word from Scripture for her comfort. Then we prayed. I asked Jesus, the Great Physician, to work His will of healing upon her.
All this happened only because I was wearing a clergy shirt with a clerical collar that day.
Flash forward three weeks. On my way to church, I stop by the local dry cleaners. It’s just after 6 a.m., and they don’t open until 7 a.m.; but the lights are on, and the “OPEN” sign is lit, so I go on in. The attendant approaches the counter and, eyeing the clerical collar, said, “You know, I used to believe. I used to be a Christian, but I quit believing.” Why did you quit believing?” I responded.How can such bad stuff happen if there’s really a God?” he replied.
I listened further. Thirty minutes later, I left, having shared afresh with him the story of the falling of the Tower of Siloam and how Jesus said those who died there did not die because they were worse than others. The lesson of the tower – and all “unfair” things that happen to people – is that it shows what we all deserve. It shows that life on earth is not all there is. It points us to look beyond our life here to eternity. It shows that we are to turn from our unbelief to Christ.
This second chance to confess Christ came because I was wearing a clergy shirt with a clerical collar.
Three months of vicarage has shown me a clergy shirt is a blinking evangelism beacon that screams out, “Talk to me about God!” If I wore an oxford shirt and tie, I would look like any other businessman or professional. If I wore a T-shirt and jeans, I would look like any other easy-going guy. But the clergy shirt and collar announces I’m a pastor, a vicar, or one in training for the Office of the Holy Ministry. Some may hate the collar; others may like it. For me, it lets those around me know I am pproachable concerning the things of God. Some may glare, not wanting to be eminded of God and those who believe in Him. But even then, the wearing of the collar is a “witness.” Even if people confront me, it opens a door that otherwise might not have existed to confess Christ.
Evangelism opportunities have made me a believer in wearing the clergy shirt and collar. Even if I never see the fruits of sharing the Gospel Word with those I meet, if a clerical collar allows me to sow the seed, I’m going to wear it! We are not always called to “win” others to Christ, but to be faithful in confessing Him. Through such onfession of Christ, the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He wills. If a clergy shirt and collar open doors for me to confess Christ to others, I’ll wear them. This is what the school of experience has taught me. But be forewarned. If you wear a clergy shirt and clerical collar, you are on display. Others are watching. It will make you pause and think twice about doing anything that may besmirch God’s holy name, anything that may “carry the name of the Lord, Your God, into the emptiness” (2nd Commandment, translation from the Hebrew). So if you decide to wear the collar, do not do so lightly. More than your reputation is at stake. But if you are willing, don the collar. Be a good and faithful servant, for the fields are ripe and the workers are few.
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