It is 32 years since I last regularly wore a uniform. I was in Regimental Instructor in the South African Air Force (which now seems like another life). One of my duties was to ensure that the troops dressed correctly – and to frighten them into correcting anything that was out of order. Well I have worn my clerical uniform since Ash Wednesday.
This has become my Lenten practice/penance. I have worn a clerical shirt every day of the past ten days. And in the process of doing this, I have discovered that I have both given up something, and taken on something.
I have discovered that wearing a clerical shirt takes away my anonymity. I am now noticed. In the past week I have taken two weddings and a funeral (why does this sound familiar?), and numerous church services and meetings. Here the clerical collar was accepted mostly without comment – although some wondered why I was “dressed for a funeral”. It was the other occasions that raised comment: I attended a 21st birthday party at a beach venue at Yzerfontein; I went to On Broadway, a dinner theatre venue; I went to the Maynardville Carnival; and in between I had coffee at VidaE, and Dulce Café; and shared meals at Montebello, and Kauai. These moments caused more than a second glance, with me being aware of ‘being watched’ and others around me aware of my presence. Someone remarked that she had spotted me at the theatre because of my collar, while many strangers at the Carnival either greeted me or – more disturbingly - moved out of my way. The 21st party did not know what to make of me, but it was my niece’s party and she is always unfailingly warm and welcome of me.
What have I gained? I have gained an awareness of living my life for Jesus. The outer garment is a constant reminder of this. It is always my desire to integrate my religious practice with my daily living, but I realise just how easy it is to rise to the occasion from time to time, but mostly to survive the daily pressures of life with little conscious thought of living for Christ (Note to self: I must read Brother Lawrence again). I have also gained an acute awareness of representing the Christian Church. I have had many greet me as “Father” and “Priest”, although my own church tradition does not ask this. In the process I have been humbled by this respect (entirely unmerited), and aware of the way I struggle represent the Church. Because right now my church has persecuted my friend and colleague Ecclesia de Lange for her sexual orientation. She has been dismissed by the Presiding Bishop from her ministry because she married her partner Amanda. I do not want to represent this awful legalism, and yet I am called to be part of this church. I continue to experience the deep conviction that I am exactly where God wants me to be.
So I will continue to wear my uniform for in Lent: and learn the lessons God has for me. While I do not run road races in my collar, I look at the next few weeks and I see that I have taken a weekend off to attend the Buffalo motorcycle rally – I will keep you posted!