Suffering, Evangelism, & the Collar

clergy-1I was not a popular kid in junior high. If being in the school concert band wasn’t uncool enough, I also chose to play the flute and was the only boy in that section. I was the kid that even the band geeks picked on! Making matters worse, I was overweight, often wore pink clothes (my then-favorite color) and had a jean jacket with my favorite wrestlers spray-painted on it. They don’t even write characters this socially incompetent in the movies! I recently shared this with a friend of mine, to which he remarked: “Oh man, you must have been like a wounded gazelle in the Serengeti!” Yep, that about sums it up. Of course nothing is inherently wrong with any of the above; it just so happens that in the early 1990’s, those things weren’t popular in middle-class suburban Chicago. In another time and place, I might have been king!

While my social competence has improved somewhat as an adult (thanks mostly to my wife), I’ve often found that wearing clergy attire has elicited a social persecution not unlike what I experienced in junior high—at least in middle to upper-class (predominantly white) suburbs. My vicarage took place at a large, “successful” church in a suburb of Detroit. While many of the people at that church were respectful of my position, there were some who mocked me for dressing like a pastor (or pastor-in-training). When I would wear the collar, I would get comments like, “You know it isn’t Halloween, right?” or “Greetings, your eminence.”  As a result, I made it my practice to only wear the collar when I was on hospital duty and on Sunday mornings.

Just last week I attended a fall festival at a large community church in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. These days I wear my collar most of the time, and I wasn’t about to change my clothes near the end of the day simply because I was going to a social event with my family. You might think that the collar would be welcome in a church of all places, but I found this not to be the case. One man began to mock me rather intensely, insisting that I “hear his confession.” I also received a number of scornful looks (mothers, hide your children!), and one woman asked me, “Do you have to dress that way?” The assumption underlying her question was that obviously nobody in their right mind would actually choose to wear a collar!

As I reflect on my junior high experience, it actually turned out to be decent preparation for some of the ridicule I would face as an ordained pastor. I have often found comfort in our Lord’s words, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you,” (John 15:10). While some of the elite within the church (socio-economically speaking) may ridicule those of us who wear the uniform of the Office, I’ve rarely experienced it from the “tax collectors and sinners”, the poor and those outside the church.

There are several meet, right, and salutary aspects of the clerical collar. For starters, while wearing it may not identify one’s denomination, it does identify one as being among the ranks of the clergy. More often than not, women “pastors” dress in clergy attire, perhaps seeking to give the appearance of legitimacy to their claim to the pastoral office. CM Almy, a major supplier of clerical clothing, has even found it the production of a brand-new women’s collection to be a lucrative endeavor (

528286_703440503018557_155672788_nI have found it helpful to “look the part” while I’m out and about, particularly when I’m wandering around the community or at the hospital. Here’s a recent photo of me in Racine, WI with Jerome, a recovering addict and a former gang member. I happened to be in Racine for a pastor’s conference, and when I overslept and missed dinner, I decided to walk to a nearby pizza place to get some food. On the way, Jerome spotted me walking around in my collar, which afforded me the opportunity to get to know him and share the Gospel with him over dinner. This would not have happened had I not been wearing my collar. In my current setting (urban, mostly Hispanic), it’s rare for me to be out in the community and not have a positive conversation prompted by someone identifying me as clergy. It is also for this reason that I’ve often been asked to visit and/or pray for total strangers while at the hospital. In short, wearing the collar has given me countless opportunities to share the Gospel, opportunities I would not have had otherwise.

As an added bonus, the collar is a good visual reminder of the invisible realities against which we contend in this life (Ephesians 6:12). The black is a constant reminder of the pastor’s ongoing need for contrition and repentance, and the white near the throat is a reminder of the pure Gospel that raises us up from death to life.  Since we can’t see Satan and the forces of hell, it’s easy for us to forget about them. The clerical collar is a constant reminder of sin, death, and the devil on the one hand, and forgiveness, life, and salvation on the other.

There’s also comfort in the collar. As Pastor Anthony Voltattorni has written: “While the clerical collar may be old-fashioned, I find it comforting that, for the most part, it doesn’t depend on fashion or fads or hipness. While the clerical collar may be plain, I find it comforting that it covers the individuality of the man wearing it. While the clerical collar may be stuffy, I find it comforting that it is not my job as a Pastor to entertain. Very simply, the uniform represents the Office of the Pastor well,” (; emphasis original). There’s certainly nothing magical about putting on a collar, nor does wearing it make one any holier. Quite the opposite: it identifies the pastor as a sinner, covers up his individuality (as all uniforms are apt to do), and directs us to the holiness that is only found in Christ.


Suffering, Evangelism, & the Collar — 36 Comments

  1. You say there is no denominational distinction in the collar, but aren’t there Roman and Anglican collars? Aren’t there things like preaching tabs?

    I realize this is not the point of your post, but I’m curious about the different types of collars and who wears them. I always thought you could spot the Roman, or Anglican in a crowd, but What is appropriate for a Lutheran? Is there a rubric?

  2. @Erich #1
    What is appropriate for a Lutheran? Is there a rubric?

    Not eligible to wear one, just observant of the fact that Lutheran Pastors wear either “Anglican” or “Roman” collars, according to their individual preference.

    And where the occasion doesn’t call for a tie, they may also wear casual attire.

  3. @helen #2

    helen :
    Lutheran Pastors wear either “Anglican” or “Roman” collars, according to their individual preference.

    … as do also Anglicans and Romans.
    I think the distinction is mostly one that the manufacturers have come up with for ordering convenience.
    I believe the very idea of wearing clerical collars as we know them today, far from being a Roman Catholic phenomenon, originated with Scottish Presbyterians – as an imitation of the black robe closed at the collar with a white band.

  4. @helen #4
    The ironing is nothing; the starching and the piping is the real challenge.
    And just one funeral in the rain, and you have to start all over …

  5. @Erich #1
    That’s a good question! I’m no expert in the history of such things, so maybe someone more informed can enlighten us all. I think both Helen and Jais make some valid points, though.

  6. Pastor Eric Andersen, if I may be so bold as to say Good For You! and I encourage you to continue in this practice. When everyone ( in the church of all places?! ) continues to seek the lowest common denominator, thank you for your public presence.

  7. Thank you for sharing, Eric. Guess things are more clerical-friendly in Tulsa, OK. I have been bicycling from home to church and back and again in my clerical for five years now and have never once had a bad encounter (except from dogs trying to chase me). In fact, with Grace Lutheran Tulsa being in a poor Hispanic neighborhood, the collar might even provide a bit of protection. Sometimes little miracles occur because of it–like with you and Jerome. Last week when I was at the hospital doing pre-op paperwork (for my own upcoming surgery), I was wearing my clerical as well. When the nurse saw me, she screamed down the hall, shouting, “You are the second man of the cloth in a row to have the same procedure done. This has got to be a sign that God wants me to go back to church!” We ended up spending more time talking about her faith life, upcoming marriage, etc. than about my silly surgery… The Lord be with you!

  8. Pastor Andersen,
    Way to go! Thanks for doing it right. I’ve known “Lutheran pastors” who refuse to wear the collar. I think it’s fitting, proper, and professional to wear it.

  9. Are you implying that those who wear a tie are “Lutheran pastors” in name only?  I think that thoughtful, intelligent pastors can disagree on this and it’s not a big deal.  The article does a good job of outlining the collar’s advantages. (much better than pink clothes at least) 🙂

    @Randy #9

  10. @John Rixe #10

    Nope. Not at all. However, I never witnesses my former CGM pastor wear the collar…..or a tie….

    I have issues with “change for the sake of change” concept. Those who seek to reinvent themselves and their surroundings to better accomodate their feelings and emotions make me want to vomit in technicolor.

    A collar does not make a good pastor, but a good pastor can make the collar shine!

  11. Pastor Anderson, I am the Racine visitor and found out your group was in town after the fact. If you need someone to follow-up with Jerome send me an email (you can find me on the LCMS finder). Though I serve on the north side, Holy Cross is near the neighborhood where you were and would be a great place for Jerome to worship. Rev. Neil Carlson

  12. @Jais Tinglund #13
    You are evidently better acquainted with it than I! I’ve only seen pictures. 🙂

    [I somehow don’t think this is what the author had in mind when he wrote “suffering”.]

  13. @Randy #11
    Actually I believe the “norm” 60 or 70 years ago was a shirt and tie. It was the liberal factions including those surrounding/involved in the walkout that began to introduce the clerical into LCMS clergy life. They introduced the “change” in attire as it were. I have a number of retired pastors from that era in my congregation who all attest to it and all claim the norm for them was shirt and tie “back in their day”. If you look at WELS, I believe they also by and large opt for the shirt and tie as opposed to the clerical.

    @John Rixe #10
    As long as a man is dressing in a way that shows respect for the office he holds and he looks professional you are right on the money, either a shirt or tie or a clerical will do. Certainly no judgement should be made about anyone or their theology simply based on whether or not they own a clerical. Also interesting to note, whenever I wear a clerical I am often referred to as “Father” and mistaken for a Roman Catholic priest. Perhaps a downside to the wearing of a clerical. 😉

    From the last ACELC conference in Austin, in the paper the Rev. Phillip Hale gave:
    “There is no ‘Lutheran liturgy’, just as there is no Lutheran haircut, architecture, vestment, or church polity. In things not sinful, offensive, or dictated by God in Scripture, history cannot create any binding tradition. Scripture alone is our authority and common doctrine is enough for fellowship.”

    From C.F.W. Walther:
    “And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere.”

  14. @Rev. McCall #15

    Rev. McCall :
    From C.F.W. Walther:
    “And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere.”

    Just to reinforce the authority of the Walther quote: Melanchton quoted it already in 1530 in the Augsburg Confession, Article VII – or perhaps the process of tradition might have gone the other way …

    As far as the clerical collar goes, that is also the impression I have picked up from history, that it, along with the alb (the white robe) for worship, is a fairly recent phenomenon, and introduced by the more Ecumenical-Liberal-Liturgical circles surrounding von Schenck.

    And of course, whether or not a Pastor wears a clerical collar, and when, says nothing about doctrine or faithfulness.
    Wearing the collar might be an indication that a Pastor is not ashamed of what he does, and finds it practical and beneficial as a discreet testimony – or it might just as well signify that he is proud about *being something*, and has a great need to show to others that he is, or to confirm it to himself.

    And there might very well be very good reasons for a Pastor never to wear the collar – although I am not sure what they would be. Perhaps it just does not look good on him. Or it makes him uncomfortable in some other way.

    Perhaps the association many people will make with Roman Catholicism might be a genuine concern.
    I remember at the end of the movie “The Exorcist”, when the surviving priest visits the family of the girl who has been delivered from being possessed. Her mother says the daughter does not remember anything. But when the girls sees that the priest is wearing a clerical collar she stretches out to kiss him on the cheek. I always thought that was beautiful. But I cannot help but wonder what kind of emotions the sight of the collar might evoke with those affected by abuse by priests, sexually or otherwise.

    At any rate, sometimes, when I am wearing the collar, I am asked, if I am a “father”; for some reason this only happens in grocery stores. I usually reply that my wife says I am.

  15. @Jais H. Tinglund #16
    Sometimes, when I am wearing a collar, I am asked, if I am a “father”; for some reason this only happens in grocery stores. I usually reply that my wife says I am.

    Perfect answer… except for my friend the Lutheran collar-wearing single!

    In a largely RC town in NJ, our Pastor found the collar solved problems like no parking around the local hospital. The nearest Irish cop would say, “Put her right here, Father, and I’ll see that it’s not ticketed.” Pastor said, since he was at the hospital to visit his parishioners, the same as Father [McGuire] was, he thought it a simple “Thank you!” could be justified. 😉

  16. @helen #15

    helen :
    [I somehow don’t think this is what the author had in mind when he wrote “suffering”.]

    You would have to ask Pastor Andersen about that. Obviously “Andersen” is either Danish or Norwegian – but I am not sure if ancestral memories of the toilet seat (as my daughters call it) are stored genetically or lost in the evolutionary process (whoops; the e-word!).

  17. Rev. McCall :
    @Randy #11
    It was the liberal factions including those surrounding/involved in the walkout that began to introduce the clerical into LCMS clergy life.

    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

  18. @Randy #23
    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

    It would be helpful here if someone with a little knowledge of CTS history could tell us when they began to use clericals regularly.

    I know “shirt&tie” men from CSL, most over 80.

  19. @helen #24
    And then there are those who, paradoxally enough, only wear the collar when they are also wearing their alb.
    They are allowed to do that, of course. They have my permission, which they do not need, and probably do not care about, and should not care about. And it does not bother me at all. And I think I can understand a reasoning for only wearing the collar when you are serving in your official capacity.
    But there is something paradoxal about only wearing the collar when you are sure that nobody will be able to see it, because you have it covered up. It seems to defeat the purpose.

    Not that it matters. Just a quirky observation.

  20. Pastor Andersen, “You know it isn’t Halloween, right?” or “Greetings, your eminence.” “Do you have to dress that way?“ these situations remind me of two types of people:

    1) mockers and folks who have no concept of the sacred and holiness of God (there is no limits to their SACRILEGIOUS humor … just like the Simpsons’ creators making fun of the Eucharist .. the straw that made me boycott that show forever).

    2) Evangelicals and Protestants of the ilk I grew up around (Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic) who have no concept of the Office of the Ministry and Pastoral Office has no Christ-given ordinance/privilege to absolve or hold sins. Additionally, the association with Roman Catholicism and their concept of works-involved in the sacraments creates these REACTIONARY comments that betray more the ignorance of the person.

    I enjoy a response I heard from a pastor who used it when he didn’t want to get into a discussion: “God bless you!”

  21. While I’ve never experienced scorn for wearing the collar in public, the thing that I always get a chuckle over in my neck of the woods (NE Wisconsin), is the utter stares I get-as though I was an alien just landed. People really don’t know what to do about seeing it in public.

  22. “An alien just landed” I think a lot depends on the background of your “audience.” In IrishAmerican or ItalianAmerican neighborhoods it might even be seen as a “fatherly” feature. Here in Denmark, the clerical collar is seldomly seen since it is a sign of the RomanCatholic minority. The Danish priests have the clown-like collar which is only worn during DivineService and is part of the civil uniform from the times of the Reformation. Check this out: try/search “præstekjole” in Google Images.

  23. Actually it used to be that in Denmark the clerical collar would unofficially and not all that distinctively defined be the mark of a Pastor who was not ashamed to be perceived as Sacramental and Liturgical in his orientation, and thus not too afraid of being associated with Roman Catholicism.
    I think this has become less the case in recent years, as more pastresses have begun using the clerical collars.
    And on a sidenote, if it should interest anybody: both the Pastors currently serving the three Lutheran Congregations in Denmark use clerical collars at times. President Leif G. Jensen uses the state church uniform with the toilet seat collar for liturgical use, where as I do not think Pastor Sigmund Hjorthaug does – I have only seen him wearing the alb and stole.
    No wonder, perhaps, since the clown suits does cost upward of $ 2,000.

  24. And then there is the opportunity for awkward moments when a Lutheran pastor in a heavily Roman Catholic area might be seen in public, dressed with his cleric, and accompanied by his wife and children! 😉 We need to enjoy the moments!

  25. @Pastor Eric Andersen #31
    The first town that I lived in, in New Jersey, was 80% Roman Catholic.
    Our Lutheran Pastor (wife and two children) wore a tabbed collar. 🙂

    [The Lutherans and Methodists had Reformation services in alternate years and each invited the other congregation. No, not a joint service; the visiting Pastor was in the pew.]

  26. For the first 5 or so years after my arrival in this town of 4k in Missouri I wondered if I was going to receive a notice from a lawyer that I was being sued for whiplash. I say this because as there was no RC priest in town (the RC church was served by a priest who drove in from another area) I was the only pastor in town who wore a collar. While driving with my two daughters in the car I could see heads whip around so quickly and do a “double-take” not believing what they were seeing. They saw a “father” driving around with young teenagers in his car. You can guess the stares I received. However, my wearing the collar to community functions did open up opportunities for me to explain why I wear it and what it meant to be a pastor. The passage that I would always quote (and still do) was Acts 20:28. My “uniform” symbolizes that service that I am called by Christ to perform as an “under-shepherd” under the Great Shepherd.

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