Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm a priest and a person

Last week Heidi Haverkamp wrote about why she can't bring herself to wear her collar to Target. As the Facebook friend who posted this said, I'm not moved. The friend who posted this's major objection was the way Haverkamp sees herself as a priest to her people but not others. I have other issues and am moved not by her writing but by my experience thus far wearing a collar.

I joked in the fall with the Bishop of California (for whom I work) that Thursdays were apparently street chaplaincy days. As I would get off the BART and climb Nob Hill, for weeks in a row I encountered people who needed a chaplain. They didn't want money, they didn't want food, they saw my collar and wanted someone who would value their personhood by listening to them. Many of them would walk with me along my walk and turn off when our paths actually diverged. Some of these were homeless people facing addiction, others were union workers who were waiting for the next job — so they could have a good time with their children. I made a choice to wear my collar on my commute by car, transit, and foot in part to be available for those who need a priest.

Unlike Haverkamp I do not face the same kinds of issues — I'm never pointed out because I'm a man. If people have an image of a cleric, it certainly is physically more like me than her...until I'm with a different set of my people. Not the congregation with which I am associated, but the gays. I live in the San Francisco suburbs but am moving in to the city shortly. If I go to a bar after work, I do not have time to change into something else, I hate the way a clerical shirt looks without a collar, and I don't take my collar off.

A friend of mine had a negative experience of someone fetishizing his collar when he wore it to a gay bar, so he does not anymore. My first time wearing clericals to a gay bar was Maundy Thursday last year after hours at church. I went to my regular bar, where no one there was surprised to see me in a collar because they all knew I was a deacon, and before I was a deacon they knew I was a seminarian, not just a run of the mill grad student. There were times I listened to people talk about spirituality, there were times I said "Actually, this isn't the kind of relationship we can have, but let me refer you to someone," and there were times I said, "I'm not here to priest. This would be a lively discussion over coffee, but I want to sing right now."

My clerical collar is an invitation that sometimes I'm not prepared to be the best host to entertain, but it is a part of my vocation. A turn of phrase I've approached lately is "I'm a priest, not a prude." I can open up the library and read someone just as quickly as I can invite people to examine their lives through the lens of the baptismal covenant and ask how they're proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Sometimes that Good News is as simple as "Oh, wow, not all churches are anti-gay, and this is one that has one in leadership."

Seeing a collar in a grocery store, gas station, or restaurant in Illinois may be unusual. With the exception of Nob and Cathedral Hills in San Francisco I'd wager it's even more so. But whether I'm wearing a collar or not I'm a priest and a person. There isn't a distinction there. I was no less a priest on Sunday in an orange polo, jeans, and flip flops when I presided at the eucharist for my parish's retreat than I am in a chapel at Grace Cathedral in a conical chasuble — with a collar underneath.

My living of my priesthood and how I wear a collar (writing this from a shared working space in SOMA) are comparable to my approach to social media. I vehemently oppose people with a "priest" profile and a "real" profile — the priesthood is part of my real life, and everything I post on Facebook is a reflection of my priesthood. That keeps my standards up, but it shows my non-religious friends and acquaintances that people of the church aren't just obsessed with hot button issues or on the far Right of them.

Wearing a collar in public is a way of bearing witness to my call. How I bear that witness is different in every situation, but there is another of my social media philosophies that ties in here. Many people are hesitant to embrace social media use for their churches because they think that no one at their church is on Facebook or Twitter (I encounter that less and less daily, thanks be to God). But I think that's myopic. What about the people on Facebook and Twitter who aren't in your church but might be called there, nonetheless?

As Patrick Malloy says about presiding at small gatherings or offsite in plainclothes, your people know you're a priest; a stole doesn't make you magically authorized to preside. The people at Christ Church and DioHouse know I'm a priest. My husband and cat know I'm a priest. The people at points in between and in other encounters usually don't, but I'm available as a priest for them too whether I like it or not. Long-term pastoral presence? Maybe not. Present to publicly say that I have good news? Definitely.

So regardless of if I'm in a purple checked Bonobos shirt or a clerical shirt from Wippell, I'm both a priest and a person. I am a full person with a full-life of Instagramming books about funerals and taking shameless selfies. That's all a part of priest life (which I'm now tagging all my Instagram photos with). I'm not questioned about being a cleric because of my sex, but I am questioned about it because of my sexuality and my age.

My personhood challenges the image of the nicely greying man with thoughtful red sneakers with all blacks do, too.

UPDATE: The Bonobos link is a bit of humor after a friend commented elsewhere, " The new superman movie has 130 million dollars of product placement in it yet somehow Joseph's bonobos promo is 10x more effective." Meant to be more self-deprecating and humorous than consumerist.

1 comment:

  1. I. love. this.

    In a much, MUCH more limited way, I was often questioned similarly when I wore my Tau. Not that I am a priest, but it was a proper habit. Observing reactions wherever I happened to be was always an interesting, sometimes humiliating, sometimes humbling, experience.