Called or Collared

A new and interesting development locally is a monthly inter-faith coffee morning. A few of us from different faith traditions go and have coffee together in a local cafe. No agenda. Very relaxed. It is a meeting which includes RC, Presbyterian and Episcopal Christians, the local Immam and someone from a Tibetan Buddhist centre. We are in touch with someone from the local synagogue too, but so far I’ve not met him.

This week was a particularly good meeting. Someone had invited two liaison officers from the local police force – two individuals who work on diversity issues including race, gender, religion etc. One of the most interesting things to come out of the conversation on Tuesday was that of five of us sitting around a table, three of us had had trouble in the streets which had to do with wearing particular clothing associated with religion. In my case, the number of times I’ve had aggressive comments about my collar has meant that I now remove it before walking home.

It does not feel comfortable to have to modify one’s dress in the street in order to avoid trouble, and the police were very keen to point out to all of us that hassling someone because of the way they are dressed is a crime and should be reported every time. It was the fact that this is something that we had in common across faith boundaries which struck me most.

I’m aware of some people who think that the right thing to do is to carry on wearing clerical dress proudly at all times and to take one’s place in the streetscape. In theory I agree with this. In practise, I slip off my collar before I get past one of the local pubs, where there have been drinkers out on the street late at night since the smoking ban came in.

What would you do and what would you have a priest do?