Last night during my class on “What’s a Lutheran?”, someone asked me why I wear a clerical collar on Sunday morning. For them the clerical collar seemed to be Catholic. I briefly explained that clerical collars are not necessary for me, but they help me to lead worship on Sunday morning. I then explained the Lutheran concept of “adiaphora,” which means, “does not matter.” Things that are adiaphora are not crucial or necessary elements of faith but rather decisions, conduct, habits that one can choose if helpful.
An example for Lutherans would be whether or not to make the “sign of the cross,” touching their forehead, sternum and shoulders so as to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Lutherans find it helpful in worship, others find it awkward or distracting. I have always preached that if it helps you to focus on Christ, then do it.
Wearing a clerical collar is adiaphora for me. It is not essential for worship, but it helps me be mindful of my role as a pastor in the congregation. I have been called by Resurrection Lutheran to bring the people the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I also think it makes it very clear to any visitor what my role is. They can quickly identify who the pastor is. I do not see it as a status symbol, but rather my service uniform. The clerical collar is worn by Lutherans, Episcopalian, Methodist and other clergy as well as Roman Catholic priests.
I also know that context makes a big difference. During my internship in suburban Philadelphia I remember the tremendous respect I received when I wore my clerical collar to the hospital. The community was predominately Roman Catholic and many assumed that I was a Catholic priest. Nearly everyone called me “Father” and deferred to me. But once, after making hospital calls, I went shopping with my wife at the local mall. I remember the severe looks of disapproval from the sales clerks as I waited for my wife to try on bathing suits. In their eyes, a priest should not be doing such things!
How do you look upon those who wear clerical collars? Are there spiritual habits, actions or practices that you wonder if they are adiaphora or not?