Each year I dust off the clerical uniform in my closet and wear it during the Lenten season. The clerical collar (of Anglican/Protestant heritage) has also been worn by Roman Catholic priests since the middle of the 19th century. Many early American fundamentalists, like D. L. Moody, were not ordained and did not wear clericals. The popularity of un-ordained plain-clothes evangelists and preachers (especially in Pentecostalism) caught on, and by the mid-twentieth century, most fundamentalist/evangelical clergy wore plain clothes; first in suits, now in jeans and casual shirts. Therefore, wearing clericals is certainly out of step with my peers. So, here are 11 reasons why I wear clericals during Lent.
1. To follow the Biblical example of clergy wearing identifiable clothing. Jewish priests in the OT and NT wore identifiable clothing. Jesus may have worn clothing that made him easily identifiable as a Rabbi (John 1:38, Mark 10:17), and in John 7:10-15 he may have gone to the feast without rabbinic clothing, and was thus unrecognizable to the public. It is likely that Paul wore rabbinic clothing of some kind that gained him easy access to Synagogues wherever he went.
2. To visually express the ministerial calling. Uniforms are ready identifiers of one’s calling and vocation. This is especially helpful when making hospital and other visits. Let’s suppose that a pastor makes a visit in an area where drug dealing or prostitution is prevalent. The clerical collar sends a clear message to everyone that the pastor has come to minister to the sick and needy in Christ’s name. Idle speculation might be triggered by a pastor dressed as a layman in such neighborhoods.
3. To show solidarity with other clergy globally. In a day of individualism, wearing a clerical collar common to Christian clergy across denominational lines is a refreshing expression of solidarity.
4. To show solidarity with clergy historically. Christian ministers have historically worn identifiable clothing to mark them as clergy. While this practice has waned in the American church in the past 140 years (mentioned above), wearing clericals today expresses solidarity with clergy throughout Christian history.
5. To visibly express the presence of Christian clergy in our world. Police cars are marked and unmarked. Some police cars are marked to make visible the presence of law enforcement in our communities (I know this is a scary example, work with me!). Marking clergy makes visible the presence of clergy in our communities. This has at least three positive effects. First, to encourage those who have fallen away to be reminded of Christ and his church. Second, to encourage righteous behavior. Who wants to purchase pornography standing next to a pastor wearing a clerical collar? Third, to make visible the presence of Christians. Much like the presence of Muslims and other religions are made known through distinctive dress.
6. To dress with a missionary-mindset. The famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, sought to contextualize his ministry by dressing like the Chinese. About 75% of Minnesotans are Catholic or Lutheran, it’s normal in my setting to see a pastor in a uniform.
7. To deny worldly attire as a reminder of my calling. When I was in the US Navy, we wore the naval uniform in some ports, and were permitted to wear civilian clothing in other ports. When we wore the uniform, our actions and words represented the United States, not ourselves. When we wore civilian clothes our actions seemed to be on us. Those who have received a holy calling, and are “gifts” to the church (Eph. 4:11-13) have a sacred calling. Wearing the clerical uniform and denying oneself “civilian clothing” is a beautiful reminder that our actions and words represent Christ, not ourselves. The clerical collar provides a reminder to me of my mission and identity as a witness to Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.
8. To strengthen personal holiness. Clothing matters. While we may not follow the business-world motto: “dress for success,” we all know clothing has a psychological effect upon us. Wearing the clerical collar strengthens one’s resolve for personal holiness. No one wearing a clerical collar is going to get drunk in a bar, or commit other public sins. However, a pastor wearing civilian clothing may do such things. Clericals have a way of strengthening my desire to live a holy life.
9. To make myself accountable to everyone. When a pastor wears the clerical collar, they are humbly and publicly submitting themselves to God and a watching world as a Christian pastor. Everyone knows who they are, and will be watching their behavior. Once the community sees a pastor wearing the clerical collar, they are likely to recognize you even when you are wearing ordinary clothing. It makes our ministerial duties inescapable, and it constrains our personal conduct, because we can’t disappear into the crowd when we are wearing clericals. Clericals mean that visitors don’t have to ask, “Where is the pastor?” They know just by looking. There is a unique accountability when I wear the uniform of my vocation.
10. To live out our historic-contemporary value. One of our core values at Eagan Hills Church is to be “Historic-Contemporary.” Wearing clericals today embraces the historic pattern of Christian clergy in the contemporary setting.
11. To wear clericals as a sort of “sackcloth and ashes” during Lent. The biblical expression “sackcloth and ashes” shows humble repentance and grief (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 3:31; 13:19; Ezra 9:3-7; 10:1-6; Neh. 1:4-7; 9:1; Est. 4:3; Job 2:12; 42:6; Ps. 30:10;Is. 58:5; Jer. 6:26; Ez. 27:30; Dan. 9:3; Jonah 3:6; Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13; Rev. 18:19). In a day of private and quick repentance, the thought of public repentance for days or weeks is disturbing. Wearing clericals and denying myself worldly clothing, is a sort of “sackcloth and ashes” for me, an annual reminder of my sins and my need to humbly repent for before the great God of Heaven.