It is the first week of Lent and I may have already failed one of the major challenges of the Lenten journey. I am not one to give things up for Lent, and I have been notoriously bad at picking up a new spiritual practice to carry for the Lenten season. I think a lot of people are like me in this regard, or perhaps I am like most people. Or perhaps since Valentines Day fell on the second day of Lent this year, I could not create reality out of the notion of giving something I liked up and chocolate being present at the same time. See, this Lenten stuff all gets very complicated.

I did actually take something up for Lent this year, more specifically for Ash Wednesday. As a chaplain I have found that Ash Wednesday is probably the one holiday that I am called upon to function as clergy in ways that many parish pastors do. In fact, it is the only Christian holiday that calls for me to prepare and led a worship service in the context of my ministry setting (memorial services are different.) So this year I decided to go for it! Inspired by Womenspirit’s sale, I ordered a clergy collar shirt! I was not at all sure it would arrive in time for Ash Wednesday but it did,  so I took it as a sign that I should wear it to work.

The shirt is a lovely royal blue. The collar was tight and uncomfortable but we became friends by the end of the day. I have to be honest. The context in which I minister is one where my authority as a woman clergy person is regularly challenged and occasionally outright denied. This is not specific to my context, its specific to mainstream American Christianity, I know this. Several of my colleagues had encouraged me to wear a collar to work, Ash Wednesday and the need to lead a service, seemed the perfect day, so I did it.

This is what I learned from a day in the collar. The collar has power. There is no doubt about it. It  defines one’s role–as I found I did not have to introduce myself as the chaplain because people assumed. A collar defines one role and authority externally but internally as well. I felt more confident in my role, and there was I felt flow of respect towards me that I don’t always experience. It was as if the sight of me in my collar demanded a recognition not often granted.

It felt great! And that is where I failed, or so I thought. Yes it did feel great to experience authority and respect in ways I do not experience it when I am not wearing a clergy collar. But this was not exactly the rush of new found authority and sovereignty, as in the temptation Jesus faces in the wilderness. It was not that because it was not lasting. It was not that because it was not ego-infused. The clerical collar will come off and former patterns of relationship will no longer be interrupted by its presence. I thought I had failed a Lenten insight because I had experienced for the first time the authority people grant to those in the collar, and I thought it was good. I did not fail, because I realize that experiencing the power of  this authority was not about me. The only authority I have is the authority entrusted to me by God to care for God’s people. It is the authority of the yoke, the predecessor to the collar. The authority granted to those who answer the needs of others, even when that collared individual may desire to choose another way, like sleep. The collar is powerful, but it is not the power of authority, only the power of authoritative servitude and reluctant prophethood that flows from answering God’s demand to love others.



kelli getting her hair straightened for the first time by amandaI am going to call it my “Vicar Do”! That is right, I am writing about ministry and hair style. I did not intend my new do to be an homage to the Vicar of Dibley, and I don’t think it is per se, but now that my hair is cut it does make me think of the Vicar in that hilarious series.

When you think of all that goes into ministry, it seems ridiculous that something like hair style should matter. Yet, for women clergy it does! Let’s not be fooled. How a woman wears her hair has always been an issue in some churches for even the Apostle Paul comments on what women, in the Corinthian church, ought to do with their hair (1 Corinthians 11: 5-6). True, it matters for men as well. But lets face it men’s hair styles are limited to how short one wants it –even if, and I know some male clergy do, the guys want to style and poof the hair it a bit or polish the bald head. No matter how wrong it seems when dealing with issues of justice and spirituality, I have learned the hard way, how one looks effects how one is perceived by those you serve. And often those you serve look at all parts of your life, and yes, there is judgment in that. A negative perception can be disastrous for the unfolding of one’s ministry. That alone makes one’s image an issue of professional development and discernment. BLAH~ it goes against every grain of my being but there it is.

So yes, I got a new hair style today. Personally it was time for a change. Then the hard part started–choosing the new style. How is it the next hair style going to look in the pulpit? Immediately, I heard my preaching professor from seminary critiquing every one of my sermons saying “get the hair out of your eyes!” Certainly something to consider in selecting a new style. But then there is the issue of femininity. Should my hair be longer or shorter, and what do both of those options portray to potential congregations? Will short hair be as big an obstacle as boobs are to being a chaplain to people with different ideas or expectations regarding the role of women? I think women have much to consider when choosing a hair style. At least I do. Will it make me look like someone I am not? Am I willing to risk portraying that to the world? What am I portraying, and is it what I mean? BLAH, again~with the full realization that if I don’t ask someone else will. It’s too reminiscent of when I interviewed for CPE only to be told they would accept me but the committee thought I should “invest in some new clothes and a haircut” before starting the residency. Were they KIDDING me?!? Unfortunately, I am not the only woman clergy person I know to have been told something like this.

kelli looking all sharp and professional with shorter and straight hair. a first for her.Of course, I consulted a friend with far more fashion sense than myself. (Fashion clearly was not one the gifts Spirit gave me, but I have so many others that I don’t care. It takes all of us, so as I understand it I can safely rely on others for help~see 1 Corinthians 12.) This fashion friend well understands my professional role, because she shares it. Of course I trust my hair stylist, too, who knows my vocation and profession. Her name is Bernice, the same name that the Acts of Pilate gives to the hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel of Luke. So I like to think of my hair stylist as a biblical woman when she is working on my hair. It helps me~have I mentioned that not only do I lack the fashion gene but that I just don’t care about things like ‘doing my hair’? BLAH~ but here it is a new hair style, which I think I like. And, yet, as I sit here no one I know has seen the new doo. And as all those question about how it works and the perceptions it gives off are swirling in my mind, unanswered. It strikes me that a life of faith is peppered with moments like this. When we hope for the best, even when we have no idea what may come~let alone how people will react. Perhaps I must just have faith that all shall be well. And if not I guess, in this case, it will grow out.