Steadfast on Campus — Wearing the Collar on the Secular Campus?

collarThis last year I continued my usual routine of meeting once a week on campus with our students for lunch.  We meet in the student union which is a popular venue and usually difficult to find a place to sit during the lunch hour. I sit at table with students who attend our church and perhaps a few of their acquaintances. Over the course of the hour we’ll have anywhere from 15 to 20 students swing by.  Some of them stay the whole time. Others stop by to say ‘Hi’ and grab a quick bite to eat only to be off to their next class or work.  The talk is usually casual—anything from the weather & sports to politics & theology. We call it “Table Talk” because everyone else in confessional Lutheran circles is doing it.

It was my custom to remove my clerical collar and even change into a golf shirt before I walked over to the campus.  I thought, “The students don’t want to be seen with their pastor. Or, at least they don’t want their pastor to be looking like one on campus.”

Wrongo!

One day at Table Talk, while enjoying my pizza and yacking away, the students around the table began to circulate a napkin petition.  All the students signed it. The napkin passed unnoticed by me until one of them gave it to me to read.  It read, “Pastor, you should wear your collar to Table Talk.”

Slightly embarrassed, yet pleasantly surprised, I said, “No problem.” I was glad to do it. The collar designates the office I hold and who I am to them.

Now I go up to campus looking like, well, their campus pastor.

About Pastor John Wegener

Rev. John H. Wegener was born on September 22, 1974 in Ames IA a minute after the birth of his twin brother. He was baptized on October 6, 1974 at St. John Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Hubbard, IA where his father (The Rev. Thomas C. Wegener) served as pastor. He was confirmed in 1984 at Faith Lutheran Church of Waterloo, IA. He graduated from West High School in Waterloo and then attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA where he earned a B.A. in Graphic Design in 1997. In 2000, he began his studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. He served as vicar at Emmaus Lutheran Church, in Fort Wayne from the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2003. He received his Master of Divinity from CTS in 2004. He was called to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Readlyn, IA and Immanuel Lutheran Church of Klinger, IA where he was ordained and installed on June 13, 2004. He served there until July, 2007 when he accepted the call to serve the campus ministry at College Hill Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa near the University of Northern Iowa. He was installed there on July 1st, 2007. John met Ms. Heidi M. Johnson while in college at the church where he now serves as pastor. They were married on August 8, 1998 at Grace Lutheran Church in Waterloo, IA. John and Heidi have four children: AJ, Aleah, Javan, and Michael.

Comments

Steadfast on Campus — Wearing the Collar on the Secular Campus? — 32 Comments

  1. I’m glad your students want you to be identified… and want to be identified with you!
    Your “uniform” is a witness without words.

    [You may be addressed as ‘Father’ now and then, but no harm done!] 🙂

  2. Helen, If I had a dollar for every time I have been called “Father” in the past five years, I could retire! 🙂

    Pastor Wegener, though I have come to the OHM rather late in life(ordained at age 57) I have long had a policy of going about my business in “uniform”. This dates from my military days when I had a personal policy of flying in uniform when travelling on orders. Today that means that if I am out and about doing “pastor” stuff, I wear my collar. That collar tells people what and who I am, and as Helen says is itself a public confession of Christ. In addition, it is a dandy conversation starter.

  3. @David Hartung #2
    Helen, If I had a dollar for every time I have been called “Father” in the past five years, I could retire! 🙂

    One of my New Jersey Pastors had to visit regularly at a large hospital where parking was near non existent. One of the Irish cops would often help out by saying, “Just park it here, Father; I’ll see that nobody bothers it.” [No parking zone] Pastor told us, “I just say thank you! I’m there for the same reason the priest is there.” 🙂

  4. That’s good to hear. Our pastor wears his everywhere. Our campus pastor does too.

    I’ve heard a lot of Roman Catholic laymen pass by calling the Lutheran pastor I was with “Father”.

  5. A quick read of the 4th Commandment in the LC puts to rest the “Father” concern . . .

    I always remember Marquart’s quip in response in a Q&A regarding when to wear clericals:

    If you hahve the johb, weahr the uniform.” (Best imitation – sorry)

    🙂 jb

  6. Of course this brings up the question of LCMS Pastors who do not wear collars. I know several, is there a problem with this?

    As an aside, it is my understanding that our WELS Brethren do not wear collars.

  7. A businessman or a salesman wears a shirt and tie, perhaps a suit as well.

    A mechanic wears matching work slacks and shirts with his name and/or the business name on it.

    “Michelle” or whomever at the McDonald’s counter has her red or blue uniform with name-tag.

    Virtually every business of which I can think does the same. The real question is:

    Why would an orthodox Pastor not wish to be identified as such in public? Pressing the limits of adiaphora is an exercise of those not quite in synch with orthodoxy. I fail to see the need to emulate their example. If for no other reason than to distinguish myself from the Joel Osteens of the world, I wear the WC on the job. It says much.

    Just a Q . . . Pax – jb

  8. @jb #8
    Why would an orthodox Pastor not wish to be identified as such in public?

    There was a time frame in which it was not done; most of those men must be 80 and up by now. (I still see a retired pastor of that generation in a suit and tie, but his [additional] reasoning is that he is no longer a pastor.) Those older men were not seen out in anything except a suit.

    Now there is a time/place for casual attire.
    One pastor I know was criticized for being seen in a cafe in T-shirt and shorts. He had spent the morning with his youth group, cleaning a mile of roadside and they had stopped afterward for a Coke… [hardly an offense but those looking for an excuse used it!] 🙁 [Yes, another one!]

    But those ‘pushing the envelope’ in the church are likely to be casually dressed out of it, too. That’s another way of rebelling, I think.

  9. Pressing the limits of adiaphora is an exercise of those not quite in synch with orthodoxy.

    In general WELS clergy don’t wear the collar in public even on Sundays.  I don’t see what this has to do with orthodoxy.    

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

  10. ….on the other hand the female ELCA and TEC clergy in my city are seldom seen without the clerical collar. 🙂   

  11. John –

    I wasn’t speaking to WELS, so that is immaterial.

    My comment was to the point that “orthodoxy” means “right worship” literally. One can choose to make the connections, or not.

    We cannot give up visible signs of who we are, without giving up a part of what we are. I do not wish to belabor the point. You can “exception-alize” my words to the nth degree. Someone working at McDonalds in anything less that the proper attire will not be employed there for long. Simple matter of fact. If the world, sinful as it is, gets that simple fact, what of the Una Sancta?

    Perhaps you truly do not see what any of this has to do with orthodoxy. That’s pretty much how adiaphora became sacramental in our midst.

    Jes’ saying. Pax

    jb

  12. @jb #8
    Excellent points, JB. Over at Gottesdienst, this was discussed a few months back. I’ll just reiterate what I said on that site. As a member of the laity, I would never ask my pastor why he doesn’t wear a clerical collar. It would embarrass him, I think. I just assumed it was and is a matter of freedom-neither commanded nor forbidden. However, I find it quite ironic that on a majority of Sundays during the year from the pulpit we are urged to share the Gospel with others. Yet my pastor, who would have an easy path to sharing the Gospel IF he wore the collar, doesn’t.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  13. ….on the other hand the female ELCA and TEC clergy in my city are seldom seen without the clerical collar.

    They say “amen” in worship, too. Should we stop saying “amen?”

    Pax – jb

  14. Diane –

    I speak for no one but myself.

    I was proud, within the faith and my profession, to be a “Pastor.” It was a great tribute – an echo of Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Perhaps some are reticent or embarrassed to be seen in a collar. I cannot nor will not judge a soul – but I was neither.

    I represented Christ while I was active, and my WC said just that. PASTOR. Call me “Father” if you wish – Luther would have, and that is of the catholic tradition anyway. Now emeritus, if I step out in the Holy Office, I make sure everyone “knows.”

    For the life of me, I simply do not know why that is such an issue.

    Again, I reference Marquart, who unless in his back yard in bermuda shorts doing steaks on a weekend, was never seen out of his calling.

    Pax – jb

  15. The clerical collar is fine and should not be discouraged.  I just don’t think that it makes anyone a more nifty orthodox Lutheran than the pastors who wear ties.

    @jb #14

    Thank you for your years of Christian service.

  16. John –

    No one said that. Why are you?

    Thanks for your compliment – 28 years. Loved every minute!

  17. David Hartung :Of course this brings up the question of LCMS Pastors who do not wear collars. I know several, is there a problem with this?

    There is no problem with not wearing a clerical — many LCMS pastors didn’t wear them in the past–but I know of one congregation who’s council or elders asked their pastor stop wearing a clerical, as if they were embarrassed by it. That’s a shame.

  18. How, exactly do Boards of Elders, Church Councils, or any other bodies assume any authority over pastors when it comes to wearing any badge of authority that pastors have earned by virtue of their being qualified for Divine Call? Doesn’t the very fact that they have earned such qualification leave such choice, alone to the one being called?

    I have heard a lay person state that no pastor would ever wear a collar while being pastor of their congregation. How sad!

    Whether or not a pastor wears a collar means nothing if he is not shepherding his flock in the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace is all that matters.

  19. On a lighter note. When I was stationed at Luke, back in my bomb loading days, the Catholic chaplain found the clerical collar to be uncomfortable, and as a result wore his USAF uniform on Sunday. There was one exception. His Bishop had a priest shortage, and made a visit in which it was possible that Father Ed would be recalled to serve in the diocese. During that visit, Father Ed made absolutely certain to make the best possible impression on his Bishop and wore his collar when off duty. The Chapel community got quite a chuckle, but in the end the priest was allowed to remain in the chaplaincy.

  20. John Rixe :
    ….on the other hand the female ELCA and TEC clergy in my city are seldom seen without the clerical collar.   

    From their standpoint, it makes sense. Society does not see women as clergy, the collar helps to change that.

  21. @Jack K #19
    I have heard a lay person state that no pastor would ever wear a collar
    while being pastor of their congregation. How sad!

    [His grandfather probably wore a suit. Or was Catholic?] 🙁

    Sad, I agree… and sadder that that person has the clout to enforce his prejudice.

  22. Helen –

    Sadder yet, is that the pastor did not tell the individual to stick his tin-horned, reformed mentality in the anatomical spot for which it was designed.

    Neck-ties look great on a dinner out, or any formal occasion. I loved how my wife once put it about a pastor in a tie: “O look, the banker will commune us.

    The WC, on the other hand, conjures up “uh, oh’s” of conscience.

    Once had an older Jewish fellow refer to me in my collar as a “salesman” in front of others while on a call to a nursing home. He smirked at me and the nurse.

    I simply responded:

    “Yes, sir! You are absolutely correct, and I have the best product in this world and in the world to come!!”

    He immediately slunk down the halls muttering to himself, and I made my Koivwvia Call to my member.

    The stories I could tell after 28 years in the saddle.

    אױ װײ

    Think Alzheimers – the WC works heavenly magic, as does the TLH liturgy to folks that age.

    The collar (of course, I agree it is adiaphoron but that excuse has gotten progressively sillier and sillier as justification for whatever a flock or pastor wants to do) (and I have heard some absolute doozies!) There is a point at which the silliness has to be body-slammed and simply ended.

    The collar is such a plus that any argument against it falls flat and out of gas, and exposes the thinking of the one criticizing it.

    jb 🙂

  23. @John Rixe #10
    John I think I get your overall point. Adiaphora like a clerical collar should not be a litmus test for orthodoxy. Actually the clerical collar, if you believe Wikipedia, was a Presbyterian invention that was later adopted by everybody else. If we truly want to be Lutheran a full length black cassock would more likely be in order. 🙂 I also get everybody elses point as well. jb is right, I wear it on Sunday so visitors especially know who I am and I wear it on visits so staff and those I am visiting know who I am and why I am there.

  24. @David Hartung #21
    From their standpoint, it makes sense. Society does not see women as clergy, the collar helps to change that.

    Maybe it works for “society”, whoever that is; I still don’t see women as clergy, (and I have a couple among the ‘first cousins, once removed’). 🙁
    [I asked a like minded LCMS Pastor what he called the woman in clericals from a local protestant church (met at some municipal gathering). He said, “I call her by her first name, as she does me.”] 🙂

  25. helen :
    @David Hartung #21
    From their standpoint, it makes sense. Society does not see women as clergy, the collar helps to change that.
    Maybe it works for “society”, whoever that is; I still don’t see women as clergy, (and I have a couple among the ‘first cousins, once removed’).

    On this we are in full agreement!

  26. I was in a hospital in my full black clergy clericals, when a distraught man came running out of a room and grabbed my arm. “Father, you have to come right now, my wife is dying and she needs last rights!” he cried. I told him I wasn’t Roman Catholic. He asked me what I was and I responded Lutheran. He said, “That’s close enough!” and pulled me into the room.

    I prayed with the woman, and read some comforting sections out of the Pastoral Care Companion, (a great resource.) She took my hand and began to cry and would not let me go. I told her there was nothing to fear about being with Jesus, and she would only be parted from her family for a little while. I told her I would find the RC chaplain so he could administer the final unction for her.

    As I left the room, the man was profuse in his thanks to me.

    After I had found the RC chaplain, I left. A few days later I was back and he grabbed me, wanting to thank me for my service to someone not of my faith (his comment.) I told him we are all of the same faith and of the same family of Jesus Christ, Christian. The priest told me it was his experience that if someone was not of the same denomination as the minister, they would not talk with the person whom soon would be passing into glory with Jesus.

    When we put on our clericals in the secular world, we are making a statement about who we are and whom we serve. But…we are also stand in the place of Jesus for people who need the comfort of prayer and the word. Our responsibility is to share the love of our savior with whomever is in need of it. Especially when we don the clothing that says that we serve Jesus.

    Clericals bring us together – they do not separate us. Even the people with whom I have shared the word, and who were members of the Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God have thanked me.

    One last note. I was in a nursing home calling on a parishioner who was sleeping and we could not wake him from his medication. I started to go from room to room sharing scripture, a mini sermon, and some prayer with the people. Then I would go to the next room.

    I entered the room of an elderly African-American gentleman who had to be 6’4” or 6’5”. I asked him if I could share some scripture with him, and he responded in a huge booming voice, “Sure, c’mon in!”

    I had a wonderful visit with him and we talked about the scripture and sermon and he thanked me more than once for coming into his room.

    A week later I was getting on the elevator when a your Black gentleman, about 40, came in with me and asked if I had visited a room on the 4th floor the week before. I told him yes. He asked me with a grin, “Did my father tell you he was a retired Disciples of Christ minister?” Gulp – “No – is there a problem?” He started to laugh and told me his father had loved my visit and hoped I would come again. He then said he had to tell me what his father said to him, “Did you know Lutherans preach from the Bible?”

    This was a lead-in to my comment. I have served in both Alabama and now in Texas. The question I get asked most often is, “Are y’all a cult?” Or if the people had heard of Lutheranism, their view of it is quite poor.

    It is sad that we don’t spend more time out on the street changing people’s perception of our denomination talking about what Jesus means to us. If this was the case, do you think our churches would begin to grow again when we start to follow the Great Commission?

    We are here to serve all people and make disciples of people from different backgrounds. We can’t do this unless we talk with them about our faith and what Jesus means to them. I learned that from talking with a Roman Catholic woman who was in need of Jesus’ comfort at a time of great need in her life!

    What do you think?

  27. @Rev. Dr. Steve Dygert #31
    Dear Rev. Dr.,
    I myself think, “why hide it?” We are a public figure, and unless we need to go unnoticed, then look like a pastor! Any time I do pastoral work of the office, the stole is on, etc.

    OK, when among the pastors (like a NID convention, etc.), I have been know to put on a Hawaiian shirt (Pastoral bib under), or a cassock (looking like a monk). Perhaps I am a bit of a goofball.

    But when I do the Lord’s work in the office of official acts, “look like a pastor.” It may cause a problem to some, oh well.

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