Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yes, Father...

I have never been a big fan of the seminarian clerical collar. Episcopalians have this bizarre seminarian collar which is basically the Anglican full dog collar with what I can only describe as a racing stripe. Its suppose to be this little black line on the very front of the collar below (on men) the Adam's Apple. At least in my case, this concoction is, in fact, a black string that has been taped on. This is to have a break in the collar so people know you aren't really a priest, or at least that the church has not fully leashed their pet dogseminarian yet.

This is all in theory of course. I sort of have ethical issues of wearing one because its sort of purposefully deceptive, as only Episcopalians in the know understand what it means. Seminarians in the C of E do not have any such invention of the seminarian collar. I wore a seminarian collar a couple of times when I was doing CPE, mainly when I was on call overnight. It was helpful for a sinister looking man like myself walked into the ER in the middle of the night. Collars in general did not always go over so well with the good ole' boy "you papists worship Satan" crowd, but generally the ER staff would immediately know why I was there and what my function was. They assumed I was the priest on call.

I would generally be asked to wear my seminarian collar this summer on the reservation for "my own protection," especially at funerals where traditional spiritualism was more prevalent and white men were viewed with suspicious or outright hostility. Interestingly enough, any sort of spiritual leader, be it medicineman or clergyman, was highly respected in the community. In fact, one time after a funeral, the priest and myself were about to leave the church building and was approached by a man who had come to the funeral and was afraid to go back out to his car. There was a gang waiting to beat him up apparently (we didn't ask why but probably over drugs or money). He specifically asked if we would walk him out to his car because he knew that the gang would never dare attack a clergy person. I was a little skeptical of this, having had a former job in security, but sure enough it was true. We walked him out. There were some people milling around, but as soon as they saw the clerical collars coming, they immediately all got in their cars and left.

I bring up this rant because of an ongoing problem I have at my field ed parish. I have only a few times wore a seminarian collar mainly because I constantly get called "Father." I will have no problem with being called Father once I am ordained. The conversation usually goes (with some variation) like this:

Archer: "Good morning, Mr. X."
Mr. X: "Good morning, Father..."
Archer: "You know, I'm not ordained yet, so its not really appropriate to call me Father."
Mr. X (nodding): Oh yes, I understand, Father."

I want to say, "Well, no you don't, but that's OK." This is an incredibly Anglo-catholic parish and many of the parishioners don't speak English as a primary language. They mean well, and truth be told, the seminarian collar is sort of intellectually dishonest. I just feel unethical wearing it though.

This strikes me as odd because on another level, I find the full Anglican dog collar to be completely ridiculous looking. The collar and the black cassock and all were originally created as a sign of solidarity with the poor. Everyone wore detachable collars and the black fabric was the cheapest material that could be bought in Victorian times. Now, clergy (some of whom quite happliy) are forced to spend large sums of money so they can play dress up in Victorian drag. This, of course, complete defeats the purpose of why the clothing was invented in the first place.

Sigh...I live in such a weird Kingdom.


Stephen Newell said...

It could be worse. You could live in that part of the Kingdom that thinks paying preachers a decent wage isn't in the Bible, or the part that thinks a preacher getting a nice, reliable car that happens to be brand new means that "he makes too much money" or that "he's a show-off."

But then again, since we both grew up in that part of the Kingdom, y'all know what I'm talkin' 'bout.

aaronorear said...

I spent a lot of time in my field placement working at a breakfast ministry, and was called "Father" all the time...and I was wearing a greasy sweatshirt and jeans, having spent an hour or so flipping eggs and pancakes before our guests arrived. I eventually came to realize that the title isn't for us at all. Maybe we've not yet been ordained, but we're still the face of the church. I agree, though, one feels a bit dishonest when it happens.

Bob said...

One think I learned while wearing a seminarian collar at my Anglo-Catholic field-ed parish: it isn't about me. I kept saying to people, as you do, "I'm not ordained yet..."

It makes no difference whether we feel "comfortable" or not. Yes, I know it actually makes a difference in terms of how we feel, but how we feel in this context is irrelevant.

It is about the people and the *position* in which we find ourselves. It is about their expectations or hopes or fears placed upon us as clergy (or soon-to-be clergy).

What a relief, at least for me! I don't have to worry about it.

Chris T. said...

Don't feel self-conscious about the seminarian collar too much — Episcopalians are, as far as I know, the only group that actually distinguishes seminarian collars from the ones deacons and priests wear. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, some Independent Catholics, etc., all deal with greater confusion, because all wear the same collars. :-)

I didn't wear a collar until I was ordained deacon, but I had a hard time with getting "Father"-ed, too. I think it's good to be truthful, but I made quite a fuss and saw some fallen faces when I did so. One has to be careful that one's "Oh, I'm not Father so-and-so" is really just setting the record straight; to many, I think my saying that came across as "I am not really available for you, I can't minister to you". Most people are not confused about sacramental roles, they just need a minister. If they want to call you Father, so be it. There's nothing that ties that title so strongly to people in Holy Orders that the pastoral situation can't modify it, and impose a strange title on our fragile egos. ;-)

(The Orthodox, incidentally, seem to call deacons Father as well. I never have figured out what's up with that.)