Discovering the Roman collar

priest_collarProtestant clergymen and -women in the Netherlands are discovering the merits of the Roman collar. At the annual day for preachers in Amsterdam, the Protestant Church promoted the use of the white collar that is typical for Roman Catholic, but also Old Catholic and Anglican clergy*. Those preachers who have been wearing it generally express pleasant surprise at the effect it has on others. They have become recognisable as clergy, and people know they can address them as such and sometimes even entrust them with their needs. One of the most striking stories, in my opinion, was that of preacher Rob Visser, who worked in Amersfoort in 2009 when an attack on the royal family there left several people dead and seriously injured:

“We opened the church and I also went to meetings to be with people. I continuously had to explain who I was and what I came for. My Roman Catholic colleague who wore a collar did not need to explain anything. Then I thought, “I need to be recognisable as a preacher””.

Of course, this recognisability is one of the major reasons for Catholic priests to wear the collar, in addition to it being a reflection of the fact that priesthood is not a 9-to-5 job, but an identity. The Catholic Church asks her priests to wear the collar for these reasons, something the Protestant church will not (yet) do.

From Catholic circles there is some wariness about this development. Some welcome it as a possible means for different Christian churches and church communities to come closer together, but others, perhaps rightly, see it as a source of confusion. After all, although the collar is not exclusive to Roman Catholic priests (some of whom don’t even wear it), it is considered as an identifying sign of them. Protestant clergy with a Roman collar run the risk of being seen as priests, although, it must be said, this does not show from the experiences of those who have begun wearing the collar. And some lament the apparent superficiality of the trend.

In the end, the Roman collar does not make one a priest, of course, and so can’t be claimed exclusively by priests, be they Catholic or Anglican. But it does signify a profound reality, to both the priest and those around him: the reality of his consecration, his priestly identity which does not end when office hours are over. That is more than just a marker identifying someone as Christian, even one with a certain level of responsibility.

*Clergy from other denominations in the Netherlands generally do not wear the collar, although in other countries this will be different. Lutheran, Methodist and even non-denominational preachers in some places do wear it.