What not to wear…

Ordained people seem to try and dress in one of four ways:

1) The casual, I’m-just-one-of-you-regular-folks priest… often evangelical, dresses like a school-teacher or middle-management, may rarely wear a dog-collar, but if they do… tend to attach it to a confusing shirt or blouse that is so bland or so patterned that you have to ask yourself -‘is that a dog-collar they’re wearing?’ Beloved of male priests in this mode is the Sloane-ranger button-down Oxford shirt, in a friendly blue or perhaps stripes. Beloved of the female priest in this style is a shirt with an unusual small or frantic pattern of flowers or random swirls, that makes some ample ladies look a little like grandma’s furniture.

2) The I-may-be-ordained-but-I’m-hanging-on-to-my-own-identity-for-grim-death priest… these tend to stick a black and white tab collar or bibstock, on or under their own uniquely styled clothes (which already tend more often than not towards the gothic… so they might as well go the whole hog and wear a cassock all the time… as many goths would probably love to officially dress as priests). As a variation on this, some styles of clothing anchor the wearer steadfastly in the golden days of their youth, surmounted timelessly by a clerical collar that will gradually disappear beneath the growing shadow of old age’s extra chins.

3) The I’M-A-PRIEST-DONTCHER-KNOW, crow black garb of the die-hard Church fan who has finally achieved nirvana, in the shape of being subsumed into the bosom of Mother Church… this ecclesiastical purist is likely to shop at Wippells for clerical socks and, if they are male, holiday in Rome simply in order to procure the very best in clerical couture… so far, women priests in this mould are understandably few.

4) The straightforward priest… not wanting to appear overly concerned with their own dress, but recognising the need to be clean and recognisable, they tend to go for the black shirt and tab or tonsure collar… stretching to grey shirts or on smart-casual days perhaps even a pallid blue. This vague, middle zone is classically Anglican, neither wanting to appear over-clericalised and elitist (as the number 3s sometimes do), nor striving to express themselves beyond their vocation (as the number 2s may)… they seek to be formally recognisable, without being ashamed of the structures of the church, (as the number 1s sometimes appear) from which they minister. I suppose if one was unkind one could describe this look as clerically wishy-washy.

I suppose I will be aiming at number 4 once I am ordained, since I neither consider the camouflage of middle-management, nor the cloak of clericalism to be necessary to ministry. Nor have I ever been tempted to express my opinions through my clothing -I’ve never even worn a T-shirt with a slogan, since, in my opinion: if a thing’s worth saying… it’s worth saying… in context and at the appropriate time, and with the right tone of voice… I’m not a placard.

The dog-collar is a recognisable symbol which is both a warning to oncomers… due warning, this person is a religious Christian, don’t be surprised if they talk about Christ… and an invitation, to engage, either with minimal or tentative warmth or perhaps more often initial hostility, with the presence of God in the world…

I think since the cross and crucifix have both become so often mere items of jewellry, available to everyone in every shop and marketstall; and the fish symbol still remains (quite usefully) more of a an internal sign than an outward witness… the dog-collar, white on black or grey, is still recognisable as something belonging to the context of the universal Church -a sign which says ‘I take my faith seriously’. Though the wearers certainly vary in substance, the expectations of a life of faithful prayer and service, are ones that can and should reasonably be expected by anyone at all, of anyone in a dog-collar.

There are different clothes for different occasions, certainly, but the fact that an individual wearing a dog-collar can ALSO be: down-to-earth and approachable; keen on prog-rock or indie music; truly fond of the church and ecumenically minded; or apparently just an ordinary person like any other, called by God… are not things which can really be displayed at a distance, by clothing, but are human qualities that should be revealed in relationships, and so I suppose that I will dress in a way which is a reminder to myself and others, of my calling, and will seek to live in a way that reveals more about how God’s call is lived out, no shorthand dress-options for me, nor do I intend to whip-out the tab-collar to speak to people when I need to be human, as I have seen others do…

I intend that wearing a dog-collar won’t cut off the blood supply to my heart; swelling my brain;  or to my head, leaving me without common sense; it may well distract other people that I meet, as they are flustered by what it represents, but that will only make my job clearer… to help people to meet with God in the midst of humanity and not shy away, box God in, or fear to approach… and those are obstacles that must be overcome at close-quarters, by relationship and work, integrity and truth, kindness and mercy…

We’ll see… and of course if it gets too much, I can always wear a scarf on the bus.

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About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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