When I was at an Anglican, evangelical Bible college in the late 90s the clerical collar, the dog collar, was a
symbol of derision. It was a sign that the wearer wanted to be associated with the institution of the Anglican church, but for us, younger generation seeking to change the world, it was a sign of spinelessness and capitulation to the institution.
So why I am wearing one now?
1. Things have changed
Over the last decade or so both the institution and the symbolic connection with it has changed. People just don’t wear dog collars anymore. There are other ways that capitulation to the instution is expressed, but the collar has lost it’s meaning here. Further the institution has become more flexible (well more than in the late 90s!).
But that is not to say the collar has lost its meaning completely. Another Anglican, Michael Williamson, has done some experimenting wearing his collar in missional contexts with some interesting and positive effects.
2. The context changes the situation
I am currently working in 3 different contexts each Sunday. On Sunday morning I am doing some work for Christchurch Lavender Bay. This is a great church that is high-ish in form but evangelical in content. It has a prayer book, choir (a good one!), robes and collars. If you want to see a prayer book service done well – this is the place to visit (10 am, Sunday Morning). But it is a mature, Christ-centered, generous, warm, welcoming church. For the people who go to the church, as far as I can work out, the collar is not necessary, but shows that I am willing to do things that they appreciate. It is not an act of capitulation, it is an act of love.
The second context I am in is Soma Macquarie. This is the main gathering of Soma. It is small, young, informal. Wearing a collar here would be considered a joke at best and being completely out of step with everything else we are doing and therefore a distraction. Wearing a collar here would be an act of insensitive stupidity.
The third context I am in is Soma Parramatta. This is a small group seeking to start a church. Parramatta is full of people who have a religious background of some sort, be it Roman Catholic or Hindu or a range of other things. Wearing a collar here could open doors that not wearing one wouldn’t. At this stage I am choosing not to, to communicate that we are a church that works together, not just me doing all the work. But am watching the context to see if or in what contexts
that needs to change.
What have I learned?
- Contexts and not rules should rule. Issues like the dog collar shouldn’t have hard rules, but be driven by the context. Holding to rules because we have always had them can be selfish, foolish and put up unnecessary barriers to Gospel work. On the other hand, things that we didn’t fight about 20 years ago, we may need to have hard and clear lines on now.
- Contexts change. 20 years ago the clerical collar meant something to the culture I was working that it doesn’t today. We need to keep asking “has the context changed?” before we start fighting an issue all over again, or keep fighting it. We may very well be fighting ghosts that are not there anymore.
- Contexts are different. There is not 1 rule to rule them all. The Bible gives us principles that we need to adhere to, but how we do that will be different depending on the people around us. What do they think is important? Is it something to be accommodated or confronted? Will it enhance the Gospel or distract from it?