In the last issue of ‘The Melbourne Anglican’ Dr. Craig Dalton outlined is reasons for not wearing his clerical collar in public. His main reasoning is that ‘mission is much easier when I’m encountered first as a human being rather than as a dressed-up priest.’
I think that the world is divided into two kinds of general responses, no matter what the activity that one is engaged in. Take being an author, or other kind of artist, for example. Some publishers or galleries are directed toward ‘their market’. So authors or writers change their work in order to meet the requitements of the market.
Others say “Well, this is what I write, if there is a market for it, then good, if not, I guess I won’t give up my ay job!’
Now of course, everyone is a mixture of both. Sometimes I wear my collar in public, and sometimes I don’t. But I think I am of the second ‘tribe’ who says “Being a priest is part of who I am, and that is how I want to present myself most of the time.’
My hope is that I can fill the picture of being a priest with all of the good things that make Christianity attractive. I don’t want to be determined by others’ views of what being a Christian or being a priest is (be it abuser, or source of cash, or an embarrassment, or someone to be ignored). Instead, I would like to begin the process of engagement that comes to the surface when a person encounters a priest. Most often people say to m ‘but you don’t look like a priest.’ If I were not wearing a collar, then this question would not arise. Nor would I have to opportunity to speak to people about whata priest should look like, or what a priest does.
In this case, it is not the priest who is questioned, but the person whom I encounter. This is the value to me of being a ‘public Christian’.
But at the same time, being a ‘public Christian’ means that I have to hold myself to account for my public behaviour. Christians who are not publically recognised as such do not have to give a public account of themselves.
I am thinking about those Christians who put a fish symbol, or a cross on their cars. This person then becomes the public face of Christian driving. This is a big task. The same is true of me as a public Christian.
Most of the time this is not a problem. Sometimes I can offer a positive view of Christian faith because I am a positive person who can show that being Christian does not always mean being ‘nerdy’ or believing 100 impossible things before breakfast.
Some of the time it is possible to offer a correction to an erroneous idea, or to offer more than a person wants.
As Craig Dalton mentions, sometimes Christians are asked for money. I have often been torn by the way in which people who ask for money have to make up a story in order to justify their request and so on.
Sometimes I have said “I don’t know why you have to do tis. Did you know that if you were a member of the congregation here, you would be supported as a privilege of membership?
The pain of seeing someone in need, and the pain of being asked, and the pain of seeing someone abase themselves so much in order to get money and the pain of being a member of a society that lets this happen are all part of sharing in Christ’s suffering in the World. They are all part of what we bring in prayer. I don’t want to avoid these things by not wearing my clerical collar.
Then the other thing that being a public Christian means is that my own behaviour has to match my own standards of what being a Christian means.
This happened today. I have just moved into town as locum tenens. I am driving to the next town for Eucharist, stressed about all of the new things that I have to get my head around.
So I need petrol. I have a supermarket docket which, as I recalled, gave me a 4cents per litre discount on the petrol. So in go, knowing that this is the cheapest option in town.
But the person behind the counter says “This gives you a discount on liquor, but not on petrol. You have to spend $30.00 in order to get a discount on petrol.’
I ‘lost it’. This is the straw that breaks the camels back. Heavens above! Do you think I would have paid this amount of money for petrol if I did not think I was going to get the discount!!!?? This is the last time that you will see me!”
So off I go to celebrate the Eucharist. Of course, during the Eucharist I am ‘convicted of sin’ and I have to go back to her to say “I’m sorry. I should not have loaded you up with my worries this morning.’ Which I did. I made a friend in the town.
Being a public Christian means that I have to be courageous enough to be humble, and apologise. This is something that I might have been able to ‘get away with’ had I not been wearing a collar.
So for me, the issue is one of asking the question ‘what is the best way to engage with others as a Christian? For me, having the collar on provides the best ‘way in’ to this engagement, even with my own person, as I try to be a worthy follower of Jesus