Last week, I stopped by a local doughnut shop to pick up treats for some of our church volunteers. The staff needed to make a fresh pot of coffee, so I had to wait by the counter. After a couple of minutes, the woman who had been helping me approached me and said, “Okay, settle a bet for us. Are you a nun or a pastor?”
I get questions about my collar all the time. Most people are not as courageous and will simply stare – usually with a furrowed brow of confusion. Others will only confess that they always wondered what that “thing” was I wore when we finally get around to talking about our jobs. Sometimes people will ask if the Roman Catholic Church started ordaining women (trust me – you would know if they had!). Of course, my favorite experiences have been when I have been both in a collar and pregnant. That really confuses people!
Once I finally confessed I was a “pastor” to the doughnut shop, one of the women working the drive-through said, “Oh good! Can you pray for us?” We had a great conversation after that, and I promised to keep them in my prayers for the rest of the day as I departed. But as I left, I realized two things. First, being a priest in my community is a tremendous blessing. It allows me to have deep, intimate conversations with people a lot more quickly than you would with most strangers. It allows me to not only be a pastor with my own parishioners, but everywhere I go in my collar. It allows me to stretch the reach of the Church beyond the walls of our church.
But what I also realized when I left that shop is that talking about the need for prayer probably would not have happened had I not had on my collar. I am constantly inviting my parishioners to have faith conversations outside the context of our community, but that day I realized how challenging that invitation can be. A clergy collar is like an automatic ice breaker – it is an invitation for you to say, “Oh good! Can you pray for us?!?” But how do we break the ice without such tools? How can I let the grocery clerk, the delivery man, or the construction worker know that I want to pray for them too – even when I am in my sweats? How do we get beyond the perfunctory greetings and start having real conversations? This week, I invite us all to consider how we might start such a journey toward authentic, meaningful conversations about the intersection of our individual journeys and the presence of Christ in our lives. Know that I will be praying for us both as we figure it out!