When I bought my first clerical collar I had questions: Did I want the plastic band that goes all the way around the neck? Or the shorter plastic tabs that slide beneath the made-to-order clerical shirt? Was there a female protestant pastor version? Would it work with blue jeans and my favorite boots? Would it flatter my figure and accessorize well? Was there a rite to follow when putting it on? Were there rules about when and how I should wear it? Was this something I wanted at all?
I bought the version with the shorter plastic tabs, the other too easily mistaken for a white turtleneck. In its newness it felt foreign next to my skin. I looked in the mirror and felt like a fake. It wasn’t because I was a woman. Nor that I was young. But simply because it was me…just me….staring back in the mirror dressed up like clergy. That’s when I realized the collar had a job. It was was to be my visual cue that I was the real deal.
It changed the way others looked at me too. It took care of those who mistook me for the church secretary. It cleared up all the doubts. All the old, white, funeral directors who used to call me “precious,” “dearie” or “honey” knew now that I was in charge.
I ran into the local Catholic priest, a Filipino, while wearing it once. We were dressed the same. Black pants, black jacket, black clerical shirt, white tab collar. I had added a cute pair of earrings, though. He nodded a brief greeting, startled, and walked away.
I try not to wear it shopping. It doesn’t work well while stocking up on Corona and limes. Once, on an emergency run for bread and juice, I tried not to notice the people noticing me. The attention felt like the looks you get that make you check if your fly is down.
Back at the church, though, it helped make the sacred, sacred. Baptism, eucharist, death, wedding, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, it performed its job well. It helped me stand up a little straighter. It coaxed holy liturgy from my mouth. It embraced my insecurities and gave me gravitas.
I don’t want to wear it all the time. I don’t want it to get too comfortable around my neck. This woman needs to just be a woman sometimes, not a woman cleric. But I am thankful for its role in my life, thankful for all it has given me. And I am amazed by the power of this one small thing, which is, ultimately, just a piece of plastic.