Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Value of a Uniform

Let me begin with this caveat -- I like uniforms.  If I had my way, nurses would still wear starched white dresses with those wonderful starched fabric nurses hats.  I don't have a clue how they would do their job in them but, gosh, they would look good.  If I had my way, school children would dress for school, boys in gray slacks, white shirts, striped ties and navy blazers and girls in plaid skirts, white blouses, and navy sweaters.  I know that every child in America would hate me for it but, oooh, would they look good.  If I had my way, Pastors would always wear their clergy shirts and clerical collars.  It would take a huge armed police force to make this happen, but, wow, would they look good.

Now I am not an ogre.  I would not presume to dictate the style of collar (Roman or Anglican).  I have had both but only briefly had an affair with the Roman collar before returning to my first love, the Anglican, full, white collar.  I would not presume to tell Pastors they had to wear long sleeves or short sleeves and neither would I insist upon french cuffs over button cuffs.  I would not deter those from wearing the rabat in favor a standard, modern style clergy shirt and clerical collar.  BUT.. on one issue I would not bend. The color would be black -- plain black shirt or plain black rabat over a white shirt but the appearance would be uniform black.

Now as far as the other clothing, I am really quite moderate and flexible.  I do not require only a black suit.  Dark navy, gray, and a host of other muted colors are acceptable.  I am also quite flexible in allowing the sport coat with appropriate colored slacks -- as long as the sport coat is not LOUD but somewhat muted in color, style, and tone.  The point is to look dignified and not to stick out like a sports fan all painted up in his  favorite team colors.  I do not insist upon wearing clerical attire on the day off but at all other times, I think Pastors should identify themselves as Pastors.  Baptists do it by carrying a big floppy Bible and Lutherans do it by wearing appropriate clerical attire.

Pastors are not just one of the guys or just ordinary folks.  Pastors are Pastors, stewards of the mysteries of God.  If Pastors want to be just one of the guys, resign and open a liquor store or manage a McDonalds.  The whole point of being a Pastor is to stick out -- not simply in the words you speak or the role you play but in who you are (in the sense of the Office you bear and not in the sense of personal piety).  The uniform identifies you for the Office bestowed upon you by the Church and the least the Church can expect is that you will wear the mark of that Office and hot hide it under a bushel, no?

I have read blogs on the uniforms of choice for some Pastors today (khakis and polos or, for the more rad and emergent folks, tees and holy jeans, make that jeans with holes).  I am not impressed.  Not with the argument for looking like the guys in the crowd nor with the appearance.  It strikes me that if I wear non-specific clothing to my vocation, it allows me to hide what I do and who I am from others.  That is inherently dishonest.  At least in my eyes.

I have read blogs who insist upon only a black suit.  They are such neanderthals.  God knows that it is not easy to wear black all the time so in this I have become a theological moderate, allowing other muted colors and tones for the suit, slacks and jackets.  I could never be that rigid --- as all of you who read this blog know.  I am a very open and flexible person with hardly a strong opinion.  (Are you groaning yet?)

I have also evolved on this issue.  Back when I was young and idealistic I believed that Pastors should wear cassocks all the time.  I still recall driving down the road in Ft. Wayne so many years ago and watching a Roman priest playing basketball with the boys on the school yard of the parish school -- in his cassock -- and thinking... Now that is the coolest thing I have ever seen.  Okay, so I am rather dull and live a rather dull life and little things like this are way too significant for me.  All in all, my point still stands.  Dress like the Pastor you are.


Bill Hansen said...

Three cheers! Would that your advice were more widely heeded. But your last sentence gave me pause. "Dress like the Pastor you are." Isn't that perhaps the problem? Most do. Hence the khakis and polos, the baseball caps and Santa hats...

Steve said...

Amen and Amen and Amen. (although, I'm afraid Bill has a point;-)

Greg said...

The problem with wearing the cassock full time, is that when I play basketball on Thursday nights in our (Mt. Calvary's) gym, I wouldn't be able to dribble through my legs! Better to wear my "Preachers" t-shirt from seminary days, try to beat the opponent, share a bit from the Catechism, and then return the next day in my clerical shirt!

Unknown said...

You know, the armed police force it would take to get the pastors to all wear clerics would most certainly look very good in their uniforms as well!

I'm a volunteer police chaplain with the state agency here, and this whole post reminded me of an incident involving another chaplain at the post here, so please bear with me.

We have a dress code for when we do 'ride-alongs' and are provided with any necessary items for that. One of those things is a car-duty jacket. It is similar to what the officers wear, except it has a large 'STATE POLICE CHAPLAIN' patch on the back, the idea being that it identifies us as a non-threat in the event the car or officer with us were to be attacked (whether or not that would actually deter an attacker or protect us is another topic for another post).

The other chaplain's car-duty jacket doesn't fit terribly well, and one of the troopers had an old one that fit him better (but doesn't have the Chaplain patch on the back). One night, he was going to go on a ride-along wearing this other jacket, but the Sargent stopped him and said, 'Hold on, you're not going out like that.' Safety was part of what caused the Sgt. to stop the Chaplain, but his next words revealed that it also involved who was given to wear what jacket. It was one of the most profound statements, I think, for our church to hear. 'You want to wear THAT jacket instead of the other one? Great, it's easy. All you have to do is go through the police academy!'

He said it that way to be a bit funny, but he was also serious. The people who wear the car-duty jacket without the Chaplain patch are not to be confused with Chaplains or anyone else - they have earned the right and responsibility to wear the whole uniform, including the standard car-duty jacket. When you put it on you are telling people to come to you for help and to expect you to enforce the law.

It struck me that we have been given a uniform as clergy in the church that is for us and identifies us, both for benefit and sometimes for ridicule, as official clergy to all people. If someone wants to wear it, he should only do so once he's gone to seminary and been ordained. Now, that speaks more specifically to the stole and chasuble, but has bearing on how we identify ourselves at all times as pastors.

Police in training still have uniforms - it's not the same as a full-time police officer, but it is related. They start in fatigues and work their way up. They need to get used to others seeing them as different from the rest of the public. They need to get used to the weight of the belt. They need to get used to being constantly aware of their weapons, how to use them, and their location at all times. The last part of the uniform that they receive at the very end is the badge.

Sorry this is rambling, but I'm overdue for lunch and thought this had a bit of bearing on the discussion.

Unknown said...

As I have mentioned before, my first profession was in law enforcement as a highway patrol officer with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. In fact, the intersection of that Safeway in Tucson where the assassination attempt and murders took place was part of my patrol route.

When I left DPS to go to seminary, the idea of shorts as part of the uniform was being debated. Several of the police departments began to have shorts options. The reasoning was because of the heat, of course, although anyone who really understood desert heat knows it is better to cover-up rather than to take off. I almost always wore long-sleeved shirts, even in the summer with a ballistic vest, because I am very fair skinned. The rare exception would be a late summer graveyard shift.

Anyway, I digress.

Right when shorts were making their introduction with some departments, our director made the following commentary. - "Just to make it completely clear - Neither in the tenure of this director nor in the tenure of the next will shorts ever be an option for DPS officers."

Doesn't have much to do with the topic of clerics, but the police talk made me nostalgic.

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John said...

I, as an old layman have come to believe that a pastor should, at least wear a collar when presiding at services. I believe that it should, at all other times be soley the decision of the individual pastor. I would like the pastor of our congregation to visit the sick wearing a collar. While I would like that, I would want him to come 'as is' if it meant that he could comfort a person before death. I'd rather that he visit unshaven and in ratty jeans than to miss a visit due to shaving, showering and dressing in a collar. A pastor going to a ballgame? Why should he wear a collar? Dr's don't wear scrubs. Police don't wear their uniforms. Judges don't wear their robes. I don't want you on the chancel in ratty jeans and dirty shirt. But you are most welcome at my sick bed in any clothing, as long as you're there. I've heard it said that a pastor might not want to wear a collar in fear of offending. I would remind that pastor that while it is a sin to cause offense, it is equally a sin to take offense where none is given. The collar is a badge, earned by the one authorized to wear it. Please wear it - at least when on the chancel. It's a sign that you are rightly on that chancel.

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

As a veteran, the issue of uniforms is always near and dear to me. Being an enlisted Marine and then commissioned in the Navy, I especially became dialed in on uniform standards when I had to supervise Marines and sailors.

One part of my uniform in the Navy was my warfare badge (Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer) and ribbons. Those items must be earned, and then worn with pride.

Onboard ship, we also had two standard uniforms: the uniform of the day, needed to go ashore on official business, and the working uniform, usually the cotton khakis.

Pastors in clergy shirts? You better believe it. During the week, I have what I'd call a working uniform, as opposed to the uniform for Sunday mornings and most visits. A parishioner may expect me to be out of uniform if it's my day off or I've already gone home for the day. But, if at all possible, I'll be wearing the shirt. The black shirt and white collar identify me as the one bringing the Word of God.

Allen said...

But everyone should remember, navy blue sports jacket or suit, plus black clerical, make you look like a giant bruise. Please, the fashion police need to be out in full force preventing navy blue and black from being worn together.