More often than not, when someone finds out what I do for a living, I hear, “You don’t look like a pastor!” And for a while now my first thought, and often my response, is, “Thank you!” But lately I’ve found myself having a different answer. “Well, I am! So I guess this is what a pastor looks like!”
Right now, the battle in many churches is over clothing and clergy-wear. Let me say from the start that I do not speak for all female pastors, but I do know that, regardless of how they choose to dress, the vast majority of female clergy reflect deeply on their clothing choices.
Women’s clothing has long been a subject of the feminist movement. From burning bras to wearing shoulder pads, from pantsuits to ‘lipstick feminism’, there seems to be no end to the discussion and debate around women’s attire and its implications for women’s leadership, role, and credibility.
Clergy wear has had its own unique history – it used to be that clerical collars were the norm, even day to day, and an effective way to invite people into a deeper connection.
Now, while many clergy continue to wear them consistently, I have experienced a lot more baggage seems to come with the collar, scaring people off or causing them to put up their guard. Whereas in hospitals it used to be the custom for chaplains to wear the collar as a sign of their position, in chaplaincy currently, many are discouraged from wearing collars because some patients might find it distracting or off-putting, ending the conversation before you’ve had a chance to begin.
Wearing robes during worship has also ebbed and flowed throughout history – some denominations use them consistently, some have done away with them. Historically they were meant to signify being washed clean from sin, putting on the garments of baptism in which we were cleansed white as snow… but I’m willing to bet that 99% of folks on a Sunday morning couldn’t tell you that.
I know that it’s taken decades of activism and crusading for me to get to a place where a twenty seven year old woman can look like a twenty seven year old woman in the pulpit of a church. And I am in no small debt to the women who fought for their rights and who have paved this way for me. From the women who first entered the workforce to the women who were the first generation of clergy – I would be nowhere without them. But it is now my turn to step up and be a leader and continue this movement, because we still have a long way to go.
I’ll lay my cards out here: I don’t wear the collar, and I don’t wear a robe.
From my perspective, these symbols are alienating for the people I’m hoping to connect with. I’ve heard other pastors mention that it helps them “look the part,” which is fair, but I’m infinitely more concerned with being a pastor than looking like one. I would hope that the quality of my work and of my presence would earn that respect, rather than my clothing.
I’m still early in my career, but I’ve been discovering my passion for transforming what a pastor looks like. I see young girls in my congregation who lead worship as assisting ministers, I have friends in college looking into the ministry, and it’s my great hope that they’re never told, “But you don’t look like a pastor!”
You know what folks? THIS IS WHAT A PASTOR LOOKS LIKE.
Pastors are all shapes and sizes and ages and races and ethnicities.
Pastors come in all gender and sexual orientations.
Pastors wear lipstick and high heels.
Pastors wear jeans and combat boots. Pastors have tattoos and piercings.
Pastors take anxiety meds and do yoga.
Because pastors are people. And people are all shapes and sizes and ages and races and ethnicities. People come in all gender and sexual orientations. People wear lipstick and high heels. People wear jeans and combat boots. People have tattoos and piercings. People take anxiety meds and do yoga.
And if this shatters the illusion that pastors are somehow holier or special-er or above the ‘rest’ of us. I’m sorry – I’m a person, just like you.
I happen to be lucky enough to have a job that allows me to think deeply about meaningful questions, a job that asks me to open my heart and care about hundreds of people, a job that gives me an important role in the community.
But I didn’t get magic powers, I didn’t get an extra dose of holiness, I didn’t get automatic love and respect from everyone. I still have to walk this faith journey one step at a time – just like everyone else. I am a pastor, and I’m still ‘just’ a person.
So as long as I look like a person, I look like a pastor. This is what a pastor looks like.