Tuesday, March 8, 2016
On Friday night, I put on my clerical collar and headed out on to the damp streets of San Francisco to participate in Night Ministry. We walked by a long line of people waiting for the Prince show, in and out of bars, and along the homeless-lined streets offering our presence and prayer.
I've walked with SF Night Ministry once before and it is a powerful experience. There are night ministers out walking every night of the year and they've created quite a community. Several people living on the streets know Pastors Lyle and Tom by name and are quick to share prayer concerns with them. I was surprised this particular night by how many interactions we had with people out drinking on a Friday night and the respect they showed for clergy in collars.
Then, on Saturday, I went to see the movie Spotlight. Spotlight is an award-winning drama exposing the sexual molestation of minors by priests in the Catholic Church. It takes place in Boston in the early 2000s and sheds light on a horrific systemic problem. My blood was boiling at several points during the movie when time and time again survivors shared how they had been preyed upon by someone that they trusted. Even worse, how they were both emotionally and spiritually harmed by the abuse. As their trust for clergy shattered, so too, did their trust in God.
As I walked out of the theatre, our musician Jason asked me jokingly, "You gonna quit?" As in, quit working for the church. Quit being associated with the clerical collar that has been used for harm.
I sat with lots of feelings for a while. On one hand, I experienced the trust given to me Friday night as I wore the clerical collar and walked the streets of San Francisco. I felt closely connected to the ministry of Jesus as I drew attention to the radical statement of love for the homeless and for the drunks. And on the other hand, I felt real shame for how this symbol of trust had betrayed many. I hated how this symbol now triggers abuse of power and bodies, fear and secrets.
I continue to sit with the complicated symbol of the collar and I struggle with how I can best reclaim this symbol for good. I'm glad the media unveiled such a shameful and horrific abuse of the clergy because it takes away the power of the secret and critiques blind trust. I pray that as I - a Presbyterian clergywoman - wear the clerical collar, my life and ministry can be toward rebuilding the trust given to those wearing a clerical collar. I now wear it with much more awareness that the trust I am given is not always earned and I need to be all the more careful with the authority I am given.