What’s With The Collar?

After three years of operating this ministry, this month particularly, I have been asked several times, "Why do you wear a white-collar shirt?" I have also recently faced scrutiny from some of my contemporaries. Supposing you are unfamiliar with the shirts in question. In that case, they are the typical clergy-style white tab dress shirts that many of my profile photos on our ministry website have me wearing. Because of this recent concern and interest, I felt I would write about it.

Unfortunately, many have preconceived notions that this is a dress form for only Catholic Priests or a priesthood. I believe that we, as born-again believers, are all priests in Christ. (1 Peter 2:5) Dressing in this style is not denominationally specific. I have met clergy from many different denominational backgrounds, such as Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite, Non-denominational, and so forth, wearing a collar. The problem usually exists because of denomination-fueled predispositions that something is wrong with it. However, in some cases, it just may be that the concerned are unaccustomed to this practice.

Let's do a bit of a historical dive into this before I go into my personal view on this matter. Let's jump back to the 1700s here in the United States. In the 1700s, it was not uncommon for the town preacher to wear a black robe with a white "preaching scarf" when commencing their Sunday sermons and official duties. This period of dress, in particular, will have a significant bearing on some future blog articles and sermon messages to come. Still, I'm not ready to let that cat out of the bag. The historical origins of the clerical collar, in particular, date well back to the church of England, Anglican tradition, and other orthodox Christian forms. However, my collar wear does not trace back further than my predecessors' use in ministry here in the United States of the preaching scarf. Everyone knew who the man in the black robe and white scarf was. There was no question.

I hold no particular definition of the shirt color either. Some denominational roles dictate specific shirt colors to respective duties or offices. I have never explicitly worn any particular color except to complement the color scheme of a wedding ceremony or a grey-shade shirt I reserve primarily for funerals.

I'm not obsessive, however, about wearing my white collar. You will usually only see me dressed in this fashion for formal occasions or in times when I am needed to be distinctly visible in my role. We won't get into the speech I make when someone tries to call me Father. (maybe in another article sometime, I keep a sign on my desk explaining my scripturally based displeasure with that title) I believe visibility is crucial in ministry, especially when working with groups of people. We operate a community-based ministry without a church building. Being such makes my visibility even more critical; I have T-Shirts that identify me brightly too. Not everyone around you will have direct knowledge of who you are or the role you perform all the time. However, everyone knows you in those more intimate settings, "lay attire" is acceptable because you are known or informally introduced.

I visit other churches occasionally on Sunday mornings when my ministry duties allow. During those times, I dress to meet the culture of that church. I would not dare set myself apart intentionally from the pastor of that church unless such a formal occasion made it reasonable. I believe being a visitor and standing out as a spiritual leader unannounced would be disrespectful.

I see my use of this dress style as crucial as that of a uniformed police officer, firefighter, physician, or other civil officials in our communities. It is not a matter of cocky selfish pride or a statement of egocentric importance. Instead, it is about visualizing the office's identity to those who need to seek the service or recognize me as a clergy member. I have never had trouble visiting a hospital patient wearing my clergy attire with proper identification. However, I have had difficulties in casual or business dress even with my ministry identification, for example, sake.

When I dress up in this fashion, I do it with the same respect as a United States Marine, for example, has for their uniform. I didn't earn the right to wear it; I have the honor of wearing it, and I wear it in humble respect, honoring my Lord and Savior as his ambassador. It's that simple.

Rev. Steven D. Hofmeister
Rev. Steven D. HofmeisterFounder, Senior Pastor, & President
Diakonos Independent Ministries of Maryland