Typically, at Third Church, pastors wear robes while we worship in the Sanctuary and “dress nicely” when we worship in the Chapel. We are in the Sanctuary from the Sunday after Labor Day until the first Sunday in June. In June, we change worship space, worship time, and clergy apparel. Neither worship space is air conditioned, but the Chapel is smaller and is easier to cool off with open windows and fans. It’s warm, so the pastors are not expected to wear robes. For male clergy, that means they wear the same suit each week and maybe change the tie. For female clergy, it’s not as simple.
There is an expectation that women will have a variety of clothing (not just with clergy but in other work places as well). To be honest, I struggled with that the first summer. I worried about what I was wearing a little too much. I felt naked without my robe. People were kind, I almost always got compliments on what I was wearing. It still felt awkward. We didn’t talk about what I was wearing near as much in the fall while we were in the Sanctuary.
The next summer, I decided that if my clothing was going to be on display, I should make sure that the clothing conveyed a message. So, I decided to purchase some clothes from Treasure House Fashions, a woman’s resale clothing shop that provides clothing to women in transition. (I still shop there, the clothes are great and so is their mission). I made it a point to mention in the announcements that my outfit was purchased at Treasure House Fashions and that our mission committee has sponsored a Girls Night Out for the women in the Community Corrections Center near our church. These women participated in our Days for Girls program to earn required service hours (I mentioned them in an earlier blog post, Blood, Sweat, and Tears). This at least took the focus off of the outfit and placed it on Treasure House Fashions and on the women they support, but we were still talking about my clothes and no one cared what the male senior pastor was wearing at all; same suite, different tie.
This summer, I decided that I was going to wear a clerical collar. The congregation members had a lot of questions about it the first week. But by the end of June, we weren’t talking about my clothes anymore. Sometimes, we talked about the content of prayers and sermons instead. Thanks be to God.
There still seemed to be a need to explain the change in my attire to the church in the Spire (newsletter). I wanted to convey that it was a change that I felt I needed to make but that clothing choice was only one issue among many faced by female clergy so be sure to check out the links in the article.
The following is an article published in the Third Church Spire in July 2019.
Why the Collar?
Clerical collars are a small symbol of pastoral authority. The collars are required in some ministry settings (like hospitals) so that the role a person is playing is easily identified by their attire (think different color scrubs in some hospitals). Knowing who is playing what role is important in medical emergency situations. In a traditional church setting, the clerical collar identifies the pastor for visitors who wouldn’t otherwise know. Symbols of pastoral authority tend to be more important for female clergy than for male clergy, because “you don’t look like a pastor” is still something people regularly say to clergy women. Recently, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have put out videos highlighting the experiences of clergy women and the odd (and sometimes offensive) comments directed towards them. I’ve provided the links for your viewing pleasure.
In October of 2018 the North Caroline Synod of the ELCA posted a video on YouTube of male clergy reading aloud comments their women colleagues have endured. They had not seen the comments prior to reading them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTcaAkG86QQ&feature=youtu.be
In June of 2019 the United Methodists put out a similar video. https://www.umnews.org/en/news/new-video-calls-out-harassment-of-clergywomen