Every UCC minister has to go through Boundary Training every few years. During my first session one of the newer ministers said that a friendly older male in her congregation had commented on the necklace she wore and then touched it. She started to cry, because she had felt disrespected, and her personal space had been intruded upon. The facilitator suggested she wear a clerical collar. In all truth, I found that a silly answer; the man knew she was clergy, she didn’t need to wear an uncomfortable collar in order to have her space protected. She and I talked about it at length afterwards (we had gone to seminary together), and I said that I thought respect was an internal thing, you have to have inner confidence; people sense that, and respond accordingly.. When we know our worth and value, we should not need outward signs of authority in order to be respected. She and I practiced saying “please don’t touch me, it makes me uncomfortable.” She said she felt better after.
Recently I participated in a service at 1st Church and their new intern was wearing a beautiful robe. They’re very expensive, and I asked how she had gotten one so soon into her journey. She responded that the minister she worked with had suggested she borrow hers so that she would be clearly identified as clergy. I told her that was the exact reason I didn’t wear a robe.
I have been asked by several parishioners about my lack of robing and stolling. Here is what I answered: I don't want to be apart from the congregation, I want to be a part of it. I studied hard in seminary. If there is something I don’t know, I research it. I skipped the class on liturgy (never planned on being a pastor), so I did some digging. I wanted to be sure I was on solid ground.
Robes and stoles are symbols of ordination and the authority that comes with that position. They are not necessary in our tradition. The stole is a symbol of ordination, you can wear a collar or a robe prior to being ordained, but not a stole. Because of the number of times I’ve been asked, I have made the decision to wear a stole (when I remember to put it on, have patience). I have a fondness for the one my friend Phyllis made for my ordination, so that will be my go-to. I’m not wearing a stole because I feel pressured to, rather, it will be a sign of my respect for you. You are an amazing congregation.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing about what pastoring is like; drawing not only from my time and observations over the years, but from some of my friends who have churches. I am expecting I will learn as much as you do. Here’s the point this week, I am so glad that people have felt comfortable enough with me to ask questions. I hope you keep it up, it is one of the ways I am learning, too.