today i made a trip to medical city hospital in far north dallas to see a parishioner before surgery. i went to pray with her, to represent the church family, and to assure her of God's presence with her during her ordeal, including recovery. i wore a clerical collar for this. i used to wear a collar every day, when i wore a suit to work. then i went a little more casual, and wore the collar only on sundays and for hospital visits. recently i stopped wearing it on sundays, going to the more widely accepted shirt and tie.
my history wearing the clerical collar (also called a "dog collar"-- never liked that one) began with our being accepted to pastor churches in england seven years ago. unlike the u.s., almost all pastors in the u.k. wear the collar. even before going to england, i thought about wearing a collar, but when i looked through the photo album of a colleague just returning from across the pond and saw pictured of him in the collar, i was sold. i went to cokesbury and bought two. black, of course. upon returning to the u.s., i remained one of the few methodists to wear the collar. and i broadened my horizons, buying collars in dark and light blue, maroon, tan, white, even denim. one easter (last year?) i was brave enough to wear the denim collar-- i think one person noticed.
i have to admit there is a certain power to the collar. wearing it, of course everyone assumes i am catholic. i would often wonder what non-Christians think when they saw me wearing it in the grocery store or the bank. would they be more curious as to what was in my trolley? i know when driving i had to be extra careful-- road rage from a guy in a collar would not reflect well on the church. of course if someone else were the road rager the collar could be a deterrent! who knows how people will react-- several years ago i got a ticket wearing the collar-- still can't believe that (that was the denim one). then today a manager at chipotle gave me a free burrito-- how cool is that? of course my pastor buddy-- not wearing a collar but the customary coat and tie-- had to pay for his.
the collar may be a sign of discomfort for some, confusion for others, downright disgust for a few. at a hospital, it is like a golden key-- visiting hours or not, it can open any door in the place. and just about everyone everywhere, regardless of how they may feel inside, is nice and respectful. even if it means i have to respond occasionally to "father." the reason for that, i think, is the collar is a symbol that still manages to speak to many people, even in a so-called "post-Christian" society. i have heard many people in crisis situations say that just seeing me in a collar somehow made them feel better. that is a very humbling thought. it is also comforting. it says that i serve a God who is able to be found in the most random places: grocery stores, laundromats, on the highway, standing in line anywhere. and it is a valuable shield for me: when i am feeling insecure or doubtful in my ministry, i can look in the mirror or notice the eyes of strangers or parishioners and be reminded that i represent something infinitely more powerful, loving, present, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than any of us could ever imagine.