Clergy Types: The Silly and Strange

Several of my Facebook friends have been sharing a graphic called the beards of ministry. Take a look. It’s pretty funny and full of caricatures that are often true in the church.

I remember looking forward to seminary and to ministering in a church. I had such high hopes for learning, for being challenged intellectually and spiritually. I really wanted to see new fruit in the church and in my life. I never expected to witness the birth of the hipster movement.

(Skinny jeans weren't in yet, but I could have gone to seminary with this guy!)

(Skinny jeans weren’t trendy in the early 2000s, but I could have gone to seminary with this guy!)

At seminary, I was surprised to find men (so many men) wearing corduroy pants, flannel button-downs over graphic t-shirts, and wool hats. Granted, I went to grad school in the pacific northwest, but the weather is not so cold that you must wear this outfit ten months of the year.

At my seminary, the professors often used the verb grapple to describe the Christian life. We were grappling with this arduous spiritual and intellectual journey of following Jesus and being a part of his church. Seminary certainly challenged and stretched me, but the only thing I grappled with was the sight of my fellow students toting sleek Mac laptops in trendy shoulder cases while wearing faded Converse sneakers with holes in the toe.

I knew there would be a plethora of men at seminary, but I didn’t expect to have so much trouble remembering their names. I kid you not — in every class there would be at least five guys named David or Daniel; two guys named after the patriarchs (though Abraham was rare); a Paul and a John or Jonathan; and at least one guy named for a minor prophet. Other than a Jewish synagogue, a Christian seminary is just about the only place you’ll hear a guy introduce himself saying, “Hi, I’m Ezra” and then hear the other guy say, “So am I.”

And yes, the facial hair phenomenon was as real for seminarians as it is for pastors. There were so many strange, but clearly intentional, patches of facial hair. My theory is that creative facial grooming draws the eye away from an exposed scalp. Here is the question I will ask the Lord when I meet him in heaven — why are so many seminarians prematurely balding?

Really, this scalpular creativity is nothing new. My brothers in Christ are carrying on a long-standing tradition among religious men. Soul-patches are just the modern day tonsure.tonsure_statu

Clearly, that graphic about pastoral beards got me laughing about all of the stereotypes I’ve seen in the flesh. But it also got me thinking about the things that I experience as a female pastor in a faith tradition where pastors are mostly men.

For instance, take the robe.

I’m not from a tradition where pastors preach in robes, but Clergy-Roberecently I was asked to wear one for a wedding I’ll be officiating. The only robes I’ve ever worn were rentals definitely made for the male body, though advertised as unisex. There was no room for hips.

The sleeves on these robes are poofy and voluminous – you could fit a small child through their opening. So I had a pastoral dilemma of needing a robe, but as a woman I also had a style dilemma; I did not want to drape myself in a manish, gospel choir inspired robe.

Thank goodness I found this flattering and feminine robe courtesy of the staff at Women Spirit.

“Ruth” robe

Clothing and hair are also an issue for the female pastor, especially when preaching. Most churches either supply mics that clip on your shirt like this…

or on a tie, like this…

lapel mic
or one that hooks around your ear like this…

As a woman, I have issues with all of these options. First, when preaching, I do not wear button down shirts as a rule. This eliminates the risk of unfortunate gapage during Spirit-filled hand gestures.

Second, I’m not in the habit of wearing a tie or a stole to which I can conveniently clip a mic. I won’t be wearing a tie. Ever.

Third, those over-the-ear mics can be a problem for those of us with small ears or long hair. Every time I preach, our sound technician bends the earpiece like Gumby’s legs, desperately trying to fit it to my ear. He always ends up taping the thing to my cheek and the cord to my neck. When I wear my hair down, he instructs me to avoid moving my head so my hair won’t brush the mic and cause crackling.

You try preaching two half-hour sermons without moving your head. Especially when there is tape on your face.

Also, I’d like you to try preaching from a pulpit designed for the average man. I’m four inches taller than the average woman so this is less of a problem for me, but many of my female counterparts are preaching at pulpits much too tall for them. The flat surface for notes is closer to their necks than their waists. Natural hand gestures get lost behind the pulpit and the preacher sometimes looks like a disembodied head.

I don’t spend much time thinking about leaving a legacy in ministry. I hope to be known as a pastor who clearly and joyfully preached the good news of the kingdom of God. But I have this funny feeling I’ll be remembered for something insignificant, like being the pastor who invented the first height-adjustable pulpit. I guess there are worse things to be known for…


5 thoughts on “Clergy Types: The Silly and Strange

  1. Very witty and insightful, Corrie, regarding people who want to be seen as very unique individuals but actual end up conforming to others who are also trying to be unique. Isn’t it interesting how important “image” is in our society. Keep up the good work of seeing past and current Christian practices through fresh eyes! I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

  2. I am a man, I have a biblical name and I’m balding. I attended the same seminary So I am well fitted to answer your question, “why are so many seminarians prematurely balding?”

    Answer: godliness.

    I’ve studied the Bible and I’ve learned a couple things. Anytime in sacred writ we are told a guy has a great head of hair, that is a bad dude. I used to be jealous of the follically gifted. Now I look for a character flaw.

    Bald is beautiful.

  3. Height adjustable pulpit isn’t a bad idea. At the moment I have a large step stool I stand on when I preach! Let me know when you’ve invented the better option.

    You need to look at some of the designer abaya pics and sites to see how wonderful a ‘robe’ can be. 🙂

  4. I spat on my computer reading this Corrie. Laughter spittle. It began gently with the ironic reminder of seminary days (I remember one such faded shoe lad who put “I have a Macbook4” on his TA app. I kid you not. Then it was the Ezra’s, and on the giggles went until I had to wipe my screen after “tape on my face”.

    Thank you, bless you. This is very good. In so many ways. Fun, clever, subtle, not so subtle, and very good indeed.

    Holy Roller in Robes hugs, Elena



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