IMG_1872This week’s question is about the advisability of wearing the clergy collar in a particular situation. Wearing the collar always sends some kind of message. The question this week wonders if wearing the collar might send an unintended message of bias to others. And what does the clergy collar say to the Rev who wears it? Read on:

Dear Matriarchs,

I’ve been asked by my ecclesiastical authority to provide pastoral companionship to a colleague and her congregation as they face and work through an unexpected situation in their church. My role is intended to be 1) pastoral to all, 2) facilitate conversation and help them devise a process that can be utilized to generate a positive solution to the problem they face, 3) diffuse and work through anticipated scapegoating when anger rises and fingers are tempted to point, 4) hold the appropriate parties accountable to the process they determine will work for them to resolve the matter.

Here’s my potential dilemma: I’m part of a denomination where clerical collars are the norm. I’m wondering about the advisability of wearing my collar when meeting with these parties. My role is to be neutral, though pastoral. If I wear my collar it may be perceived that I am an ally of my clergy colleague, and will not be impartial as I facilitate and help them address the situation they face. The collar is also a symbol of spiritual authority, and ostensibly a voice of spiritual wisdom, which may be a benefit. There are other pros and cons to wearing the collar, and not wearing the collar in this situation. I’m wondering what aspects of this dynamic I might be missing as I weigh this, and would like to hear what the wisdom of the matriarchs have to say on this subject.

With thanks,
Wondering What to Wear

Offering exquisite Matriarch wisdom this week is the pastor to our community RevGalBlogPals, Martha Spong:

First, thank you for taking on what will likely be a thankless task. I give thanks for colleagues who are willing to do hard and awkward work for the sake of congregations they do not serve.

I come from a tradition in which the wearing, or not, of collars is largely regional. After moving from “no collar” to “often collar,” I’ve come to appreciate how easy the collar makes it for people to identify the person in the pastoral office. I hear, however, your concern about being identified as the pastor’s ally to such an extent that it hampers your position with the leaders of the congregation. The truth, though, is that you are a pastor, and I’m not sure the people worried about your relationship to *their* pastor will see it differently if you do or don’t wear the collar.

Instead, perhaps you can determine the collar’s importance for you. You might start by identifying how strong a part of your own pastoral identity the collar is. If you think there’s a chance your authority may need bolstering, will the collar convey that to you? One of the things I’ve come to love about wearing a collar is that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I am in the room on behalf of Jesus Christ, and I didn’t come to play.

Bless you for doing this, for the good of the Church Universal.

Martha Spong (
Executive Director, RevGalBlogPals

Thank you, Martha, for your encouragement for each of us to be bold in our role for the sake of the gospel.

If you would like to offer your own support &/or advice, add your comment below.

Are you struggling with how to be fearless and fabulous in your own ministry? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let our matriarchs give you some ideas.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Clergy Collar or Not?

  1. I don’t often collar, usually for protest marches. I do volunteer at our local LGBTQ drop in center as “The Pastor is In” and never collar for that. However, the center has been threatened and I collared for the event to counter the attack I overheard someone say “look, a nun is here”, I collared for a Remembrance service for Transgender folks recently and just this week was thanked by the director for showing up in my collar. I love the “I don’t come to play” aspect. Representing Jesus is very serious business, except when it is not.


  2. Collars are standard attire in my tradition (Episcopal) and I always wear one when working. For me, it has been almost entirely positive – conversations are opened up because people can see that I am a pastor/clergy person/priest. And like it or not, as a woman priest I sometimes need that signifier.

    I think the context and set up here are important. In a previous parish we had a consultant (a lay professional counselor) come in to work with the vestry about dealing with a bully. Because some of the (more difficult) members viewed this consultant as “the vestry’s” they felt his work did not apply to them — so that danger is there, collar or no. It’s important to be clear that your role is to be there for EVERYONE, and to be sure to be available to all.


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