I am an unusual United Methodist clergyperson. And while many people may tell you why they think I'm unusual (or just odd), in this post I am referring to my preference to wear a clerical collar. I wear one every Sunday. There is a growing movement in our denomination away from ordained clergy in general, and there has certainly been a long tradition of clergy not wearing clerical collars.
When I answered the call to ordained ministry I did so understanding that I was stepping into a "set aside" way of being in the world and in my church. Wearing a collar - or being ordained for that matter - isn't hierarchical for me. It reminds me - it reminds my congregation - and it tells my community - that my presence in a given place is because I have been called there by God and sent there by my denomination. It helps to create and establish healthy boundaries. It tells others and reminds me that I serve a particular function in our community. I teach. I preach. I preside over sacraments. I represent my denomination and local congregation in the wider community. I tend the ill. And I administer and order the church. It's too bad that collars have gotten a bad rep. I think they serve an important function.
There are more and more people within the UMC who believe that ordained clergy are an unnecessary burden to the body of believers. These same people also believe that ordained clergy are out of touch and out to lunch. I agree that many clergy people whom I know are definitely out of touch, but I don't believe that we are an unnecessary burden. Rather, I believe the difficulty begins in seminary and continues in the larger "institution" of the church. Since seminary is a graduate program, we are expected to write like academics. The problem, of course, is that we graduate and head to the local church where most people aren't thelogians and couldn't care less about the jargon of our profession. The other problem is that as our denominations fail to bring in new members, we place increasing pressures on the local pastor to do absolutely everything. We're simply not all evangelists, preachers, counselors, administrators, entrepreneurs, and activists. Each of us has a special gift; our denominations' fearfulness is robbing them of the ability to be creative, to take risks, and to proclaim the gospel passionately and compassionately.
The one fault that I lay squarely on the shoulders of the clergy is that we are simply too old and too insulated. All of us need time on the street learning from our brothers and sisters who are much more apt to have been the ones sitting with Christ at a supper table than we are. We need to remain invigorated with and alive in the Spirit. We are in trouble when we wake up and believe that our job is the same as any other; it is not. We are called to serve God as revealed in Jesus the Christ. That is simply not the same as anything else on earth. The day we stop being in love with our vocation (despite our struggles with it and our frustrations with our institutions) we have some reckoning to do. We cannot be old in spirit. We cannot be removed from the streets we are called to repair. We cannot trudge to work and expect anything other than to see the backsides of people as they flee to some place else.
I believe there is an important and vital role for ordained clergy, clergy unafraid to be clergy, clergy happy to be in love with their vocation, clergy young in years and young at heart, clergy in collars presiding over sacraments, praying at bedsides, singing in worship, marching in protests, sitting at coffee shops, and clergy listening to the wisdom of those who live in our streets. Clergy can be important in our congregations and communities. The problem is not ordination and certainly not collars; the problem is insulation.
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