It’s literally been years since I posted anything original on this blog (as opposed to old sermons) but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and thought it would be helpful to put all my ideas down here, and hopefully get some feedback.
Yesterday, I went to this press conference for religious leaders celebrating the end of Prop 8 and DOMA. It was an absolutely beautiful way to celebrate the day, and I’m so grateful to Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, and everyone else that helped put it on.
The organizers of the event had asked religious leaders to come wearing clothing that represents our religious leadership. I ended up wearing street clothing. Most of my seminarian colleagues wore collars.
Most of my Protestant seminary friends seem to take great care avoiding wearing stoles without being formally ordained, but wear collars in situations when they need to be identified as religious leaders (protests, etc). I thnk that makes total sense in Protestant culture, where ministers are usually seen on Sunday morning wearing a stole, and receiving a stole is an important part of the ordination ceremony. Collars, on the other hand, seem to be in the process of being ‘reclaimed’ by Mainline Protestantism, which gives people a bit more freedom to define its meaning for themselves. A lot of seminarian friends and Protestant ministers have told me that a collar feels more ‘appropriate’ for a seminarian to wear than a stole, which I think is totally true within that context. I’m really glad my Protestant friends have found an appropriate way to represent themselves as religious leaders without doing anything that seems uncomfortable to them.
But it feels opposite to what seems appropriate to me. I feel totally comfortable wearing stoles. I’ve been wearing them for years during Women’s Ordination protests (which I think of as a sacred action), and have been gifted stoles by people who have called me as a minister and who (I assume) expect me to wear them. Like many Catholics, I also believe that I was ordained originally through my baptism, and any ordination I go through after that is just an acknowledgement of having been called by my community (which again, in some sense has already happened).
I feel 100% legitimate wearing stoles, but somehow I feel a lot less comfortable wearing a collar. Unlike a lot of other Progressive Catholics, I’m not against collars in general and I could see rocking one at hospitals and protests after I get ordained through RCWP. But it feels disingenuous for me to be wearing one as a Catholic without being ordained.
It also seems like it would lead to a lot of super awkward conversations with other people (including potentially the media) that I don’t feel like having. I know that Protestants also have those awkward conversations, where they have to explain that Roman Catholic priests aren’t the only ones who get to wear collars. But as someone who actually identifies as Roman Catholic that conversation would be even more confusing for me. Also, to be honest, sometimes I just don’t feel like having those conversations anymore. I already have those conversations a lot.
I think that there’s also a cultural aspect of what we grew up watching our pastors wearing. My whole life I’ve seen priests wear collars. A collar to me says “priest” in a way that no other item of clothing does. On the other hand, for me, a stole is less tied to that particular definition of religious leadership. During mass, priests usually wear chasubles over their stoles, so I actually have very few memories of seeing Vatican-approved priests wear stoles. I associate stoles with Protestant ministers and lay women’s ordination advocates. I associate them with something I should wear.
Of course, I’m anarchist enough to assume that we can all wear whatever the heck we want without having to worry about a bolt of lightening striking us down. But that being said, I kept my stole in my purse during the event and didn’t take it out. Not because I didn’t think I ‘deserved’ to wear it, but because I worried that it would look like I was trying to outrank my Protestant seminarian colleagues who were wearing collars. I didn’t want to appear to be misrepresenting myself, even though, for me, a collar would have felt more like misrepresentation.
I am really glad that my Protestant colleagues were able to find a way to identify themselves as religious leaders at public events– and I am so glad we had so many people sporting collars in front of the cameras yesterday! But even so, I’m struggling to find a way to represent myself as a religious leader in a way that’s authentic to my own values, while also being sensitive to the diverse religious community I find myself in.
How do we represent ourselves in a way that is authentic to our own identities and to the communities we serve? How do you do it? Does your dress change depending on what sort of ecumenical/interfaith environment you find yourself in? Should it?