The Power of the Collar

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to wear the collar.  For men it exudes power and confidence and a certain permission into people’s lives.  There is a deference given to men wearing the collar.  Not by everyone, of course, but it comes with a certain kind of power, influence, hierarchy.

For women wearing the collar I think it’s different.  It does instill in people a sense of “she knows what she’s doing.”  It also I think is threatening.  There are many who don’t believe that women should be ordained, and so for them it is inherently (and wonderfully to me) problematic.  But it also flies in the face of the patriarchy and at least puts a roadblock in the way of misogamy.  Men in the collar would probably still be seen as having power without the collar, but for women it helps presume a sense of power not inherently given.  I wonder how my first ordained call would have been different if I had worn a collar.  As it was I was told that really I was only qualified to be an intern.  Being seen as a student, daughter, or granddaughter was problematic at best.

But in another sense the collar can comfort.  In those same years of being belittled in that congregation I had an interesting interaction in the airport.  Waiting for a flight I was gently interacting with a toddler running around between her mother’s seat and mine.  The woman looked at me smiling and asked if I were a mother.  “No.  I’m a minister.”  Her response of “oh, ok!” with a big smile surprised me greatly in its warmth and acceptance.  My profession gives me another kind of power.  I am comfortable to the vulnerable.

I know that there is a long and terrible history of clergy abuse, and this kind of predatory behavior benefits from hiding behind the power of the collar, but in its truest and most well-intentioned form, my collar silently does what I believe as a person of faith we all should do: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  There’s a lot of room in the middle, but when I have the collar on I feel like I can more embody Christ’s mother hen, the woman at the well who ran to tell others the good news not caring what they thought of her, Rahab who saved the servants of God, and Mary and Hannah who knew that in God’s world power has a very different meaning than the characteristics we give to it.  In my collar I feel powerful, but not how you’d think.

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