This will be my fourth synodical convention I have attended, and the second as a delegate. One of the questions which always seems to surface in a major way is the all-important question: WHAT TO WEAR? For laity, the answer is simple: business casual. Being neither laity nor a businessman, I’m not entirely sure I know what business casual means. I guess some variation of khakis and a polo shirt, maybe a button down oxford? (I will not begin to presume to answer the question of what women should wear to a synodical convention. I am not a fool.)
No, the real dilemma comes from the pastor. What does he wear? Does he go sort of formal, “I represent the Office of the Holy Ministry and as such I must wear the uniform at all times” kind of approach? Despite the seriousness and potential for stuckupedness in this approach, there is some wisdom in it. A pastor is, after all, always a pastor. I don’t step in and out of my pastor shoes (collar). As such, I serve as a pastor whether I am presiding at the altar or listening to endless hours of incredibly important reports. So it is perfectly reasonable for me to say, “I’m going to wear what I always wear as a pastor.”
The same, of course, goes for the more casual among us. “I don’t want to be associated with the serious type, and so I’m going to wear shorts and a t-shirt every day.”
Either approach in its own way is straightforward, honest, and does not really engage in the politics of the day.
Or does it?
The sad reality is that people do pre-judge you based on your appearance. In my experience, there may very well be a fair number of delegates, both pastor and laity, that will either listen to you or refuse to listen to you based on your clothing. “That’s one of those round collar types.” “He must be a church growth pastor with that pressed polo shirt.” “I didn’t think Hawaiian shirts were legal in the LCMS.” If you have something to say, it behooves you to be mindful of how the non-verbals affect how you are received.
When I was a young pup of a pastor, I believed that wearing a collar was right up there with preaching Law & Gospel. You just did it. Truth be told, now I’m not so sure. I wear a collar when I am “working,” pretty much all the time, but I have come to believe that we can easily confuse wearing a collar with actually being a pastor. Being a pastor means bringing the gifts of Christ in Word and Water and Meal to the broken in every situation. It means speaking, acting, hearing, interceding, and praying. It means getting down and dirty into the messy muck of life that has little or no use for God or anything he has to offer. While wearing a clerical collar certainly may serve to highlight that role as ambassador bringing freedom in Christ’s name, it is ultimately just a shirt. It is no substitute for the Word.
So now, eleven years into my call to God’s saints at Messiah Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I have come to realize that the people here don’t view me as their pastor because I wear a collar. I am their pastor because God has called me to be their pastor.
The challenge, then at the convention is this: most of the people whom you are trying to encourage, speak God’s Word to, and generally behave as a pastor toward don’t know you. They don’t know anything about you beyond your words and your appearance. They don’t have the kind of history that your parishoners do with you. Many of the presumptions that you make about what you mean by your clothes are simply not going to be there for all of the people around you.
None of which really answers the question: what do I wear? This is my advice:
- Be comfortable. We will be in a convention hall for 8 days, probably 8-9 hours a day of sitting.
- Worry less about your clothing and more about your demeanor. Am I listening to the people around me? Is what I am saying spoken in anger or frustration? Does my behavior befit my sacred vocation as a pastor of Christ’s Church?
- Whatever you do, DON’T wear or not wear clothing in the mistaken notion that you are “sneaking” something by someone. We are adults. I pray we are all reasonable people. Lies do not become us.
So for those who are interested, you will see me at the convention in a collar, in a polo shirt, and maybe even in shorts if it is really hot in the convention hall. It is unlikely I will wear a Hawaiian shirt, although to be fair, the last time I was a delegate (2004) I did wear one at least one day at the convention.
Be at peace! See you in Houston!
Pastor Todd Peperkorn
Delegate, Circuit 26, South Wisconsin District