Clerical Dress for Respect, Christian and Pagan

It happened this afternoon that I had tabs open to two different articles about clothing and social respect for (Protestant Christian) clergy as well as a Wild Hunt post about some kind of Pagan trying to prank the county commissioners in Escambia County, Florida, into abandoning their custom of religious invocations before meetings. (I am glad that around here we just pledge allegiance to the flag and then get down to business.)

I am not sure of the process here: apparently the guy in question just asked to be included in the list of religious invokers. But let’s move on.

One Wild Hunt mentioned his clothing — ” I would have worn something more like business casual dress”— and that dovetailed nicely with two pieces that I had been reading just moments earlier.

In one, Paul Walters, a Lutheran minister from Troy, Michigan, writes, “Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing . . . People will judge you based on your clothing every single time(emphasis in the original).

Whereupon the commenters crucify him. One even says, “Being a pastor is not a profession.” (Huh?)

That post was linked by the doyenne of Protestant clergy fashion, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a/k/a PeaceBang, at her blog Beauty Tips for Ministers.

Protestant ministers are in a time warp, and in a reality warp. What they know of the new reality they have decided doesn’t apply to them because they don’t approve of it. Maybe the world has become more visual. Clergy don’t care, because they’re certain that words will solve social issues and save the world. Why should they wear heels and professional attire when a well-meaning slogan on a T-shirt or a big cross around the neck should communicate what they’re about to the public?

Weinstein is a Unitarian, in an old, rather churchy (for UUs) congregation on Massachusetts’ South Shore (no CUUPS Pagans at First Parish of Norwell, as far as I can tell).

She makes another point as well:

Today, in 2014, the mainstream Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and progressive Catholic movements are all in a big pot together in the public imagination. We’re just “those religious people” in our houses of worship doing our Saturday or Sunday thing, and carrying on with our quaint ways while the world increasingly fails to notice us or care about us. We’re nice to have in the neighborhood, maybe, but mostly for when you want a nice wedding or a kind person to say some words when Uncle Milt dies. If we step beyond those roles, we are regarded as dangerous, and in the United States, accused of violating the sacred separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution.

Read her post on “Subverting and Interrupting Unconscious Scripts [of power]“— it is more honest than you usually see.

So, if you are any sort of Pagan moving into the public sphere, how do you deal with this perception that religion is “dangerous” and at the same time irrelevant? And how do you dress up for the job?

Back in the late 1970s, Raymond Buckland tried to start a vogue for wearing clerical collars with pentagrams embroidered on them. That went nowhere.

Some people like the stole. Patrick McCollum’s ubiquitous saffron scarf is similar, but it was given him by a Hindu holy man, as I recall. It may come from a “scarf of office” worn by imperial Roman officials, and it may also been worn by high-ranking professors, such as Hypatia of Alexandria. (I welcome clarification, if there is any historical record of this)

But the Catholics took it over as they did so much else of imperial organization, so what then? And the loose scarves are really more like the Anglican tippet, a/k/a preaching scarf.

Such a dilemma — especially in a culture where sloppiness = sincerity in some people’s minds.

9 Comments

  1. Sandy RedBird Harris says:

    Early in my chaplaincy career, I asked Patrick McCollum for recommendations as to clerical garb, as I was beginning a year of Clinical Pastoral Education where most of my colleagues and the faculty would be Christian and might tend to wear the clerical collar. Patrick told me he had made it a practice always to wear a scarf of some kind, loose ends hanging in the front, suggestive of a stole but not specifically a stole. And a scarf could be worn over almost any type of dress.

    The scarf has served me well, as I can wear one outside of ritual occasions. When I finally achieved a Master of Divinity, Cherry Hill Seminary presented me with a formal clerical stole bearing the seminary logo; it goes well with the “preachin’ gown” I needed for CPE. This year, the second MDiv graduate from CHS was given an identical stole.

    So, speaking as a Witch in chaplaincy, the basic theme of scarf or tippet works for most occasions, and I have a formal full-length stole for situation where other clergy might gown. So far so good.

  2. Blake Kirk says:

    When I offered the invocation before the Huntsville (AL) City Council back in January, I showed up in a suit and tie, because, you know, that’s pretty much what people around here expect a minister to look like when he’s doing something like that.

    And when I offer the invocation before the City Council at their meeting on Nov. 6, I shall again appear in a suit and tie, because this whole exercise is not about how different I can make myself appear, but rather about demonstrating that we aren’t all that different from anyone else in the city.

    • Chas Clifton says:

      I am so much of two minds about that “we aren’t all that different from anyone else in the city.”

      In the sense of partaking in civic life and processes, no, we should not be. So the suit and tie are appropriate.

      But in other ways we are quite different from ministers of monotheistic faiths, aren’t we?

      • Blake Kirk says:

        Yes, I agree we’re different to a certain extent. Certainly in matters of belief and of praxis there’s a marked difference. But then too, there’s a marked difference in praxis between, say a minister in the Church of Christ, and the priest who serves our local Greek Orthodox congregation.

        At the same time there are commonalities as well, particularly in the area of pastoral care. If you’re a leader in your local community you generally wind up teaching, advising, counseling, and so forth. Even if you have no formalized position of leadership. That is something pretty much any minister understands. 2:00 AM telephone calls from people in crisis. Because pagans aren’t superhuman, and sometimes they need help dealing with the vicissitudes of life.

        But then again, what we do, if we’re doing it right, doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the traditional minister/congregation structure. We place too much emphasis on personal experience and direct participation of all persons present. There are times when I think the best analogue to modern pagan worship is something somewhere between the house church movement and the collegiality one sees in a small monastic community, where the abbot or prioress is first among equals. And you know, I’m not sure that matters all that much.

        So I think that especially when we are doing interfaith work, or public engagement, as with the City Council, we need to be talking about commonalities where they are present, and worrying about the differences only if they become an issue. Doing things that stress our differences from traditional religion does not seem as helpful if our long-term goal is to reach a point where saying “I am a Pagan” is no more remarkable than saying one is Lutheran.

  3. Dana Corby says:

    When I used to do public contact work, unless there were a specific reason to wear Wiccan/Pagan robes I wore a suit and heels, and so did the friend who often went with me (well, the suit — he’d have looked silly in heels…) It gave us a huge psychological edge to show up looking respectable, even professional. Most people anticipate that any Witch they meet will as best look like Minerva McGonigal, at worst like Elvira.

    One interviewer exclaimed on meeting us, “Wow ! You sure don’t look like I expected!”
    We responded with, “What did you expect?”
    “I don’t know, but not suits. You look just like anybody else.”
    “That’s the point,” we answered. “We ARE just like anybody else.”

  4. Rombald says:

    In this area, I respect the Catholic church more than most Protestant groups, in that the clergy have an instantly recognisable uniform.

    When a Protestant pastor says that there’s no need for a uniform, he then wears either a professional’s business suit, or middle-class leisure wear. “Ordinary” clothes are not taken to mean overalls, or a McDonalds uniform, or labourer’s trousers. The Protestant pastor’s clothes place him on the side of the better-off, whereas the Catholic priest’s place him outside the class system.

  5. Cat C-B says:

    Since becoming a Quaker, I’ve often wished I could adopt the “plain dress” of Friends, not so much because I’d like to wear some atavistic reminder of the Good Old Days as because I would like to have the fact of my peace testimony be visible at a glance.

    Sadly, Quaker plain dress is too similar to the garb many extremely conservative evangelical Christians wear for me to be at ease with it, both because I am not Christian, and because of the association with Christian teachings about the submission of women. (So not going there!)

    A peace symbol won’t do–it’s been commercialized and turned into a symbol of a faux-hippy lifestyle. That’s not me, either. Honestly, I just can’t think of a single thing I could adopt that would be clear and true to what I wish I could say, just standing there.

    The Conservative branch of Quakers has a visible sign they can adopt to stand in their witness everywhere they walk; as a non-Christian liberal Friend, I just don’t. But it doesn’t stop me from wishing.

  6. Holli Emore says:

    I hope this photo will post correctly because it’s a great example of how a stole can come in handy. A larger photo of all of us with the banner SC Clergy & Friends For Equal Rights for LGBT went all over our local media. I grabbed up my stole at the last minute and was a little sheepish until I arrived and saw that it was exactly what was needed on that occasion. Oh, this stole has our Temple Osireion emblem (often called flower of life pattern) embroidered on it and was presented to me on ordination a couple of years ago. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152795408762859&set=t.693252858&type=3&theater