I do get tired of stares. Yep, it is guaranteed that wherever I go, excluding church and home, people are going to stare at me. When I am holding hands with my wife, the stare can become a glare, as I know their minds are working on them; "I thought priests weren't supposed to be married!!!!" If I go to Spec's to pick out a bottle of wine I get the looks; "what is HE doing in here????" I used to leave work at lunchtime and go to work out at LA Fitness and the looks I got walking through the gym were priceless. "Why is there a PRIEST at the GYM????" I really did feel like the plague most of the time.
Sometimes I get tired of being that guy. After 10 years, you do grow weary of the stares and the glares and the unspoken questions about where a priest should go and what a priest should "do". Or not "do". Sometimes I just want to be, I don't know, I want to be "me". Now, I have always believed that the "collar" would give me a leg up in my quest to bring people to the Lord and to the church. I figured that people would stop me in the street to engage in a conversation about Jesus and that it would be easy for me to do it because they can spot the church guy coming from a mile away. I read once that when people see a priest in a collar that it can potentially remind them about God, church, religion, Jesus, salvation, grace, faith; sort of like a roving billboard for God. When I was first ordained I used to imagine that people were making decisions for Christ by encountering me, the priest, in the cereal aisle at the store.
None of these things have ever happened, at least not to my knowledge.
I'll tell you what has happened. Let a priest in a collar walk into a place where there are people who are hostile to Christianity and you know about it then! I wore my clericals on a flight to South Carolina a couple of years ago and, as is my tradition, I asked for a tomato juice with a lime. The flight attendant abruptly informed me that there "are no limes on the plane". Just like that. He handed me my tomato juice and went to the people in front of me to ask what they would like. "Sprite with lime", the man said. "You got it", the flight attendant responded. I'm thinking the flight attendant had a bad church experience? Non-believer? I was certain that it was my collar that had somehow put him off. The same thing has happened with requests for extra ketchup. Dinner reservations have been eerily slow. It's also funny when I am out to dinner with folks and the waiter comes to take our drink orders by saying, "would you like to see our wine and beer menu" to everyone at the table; when they get to me, the guy with the collar, they ask, "tea or water sir?"
So, the experiment. I have ceased wearing my collar every day. I still try to look nice, I mean, today I am wearing a long sleeve pink shirt! Oh, I wear the collar on Sundays or when I know I have official business at a hospital or something but otherwise it's "civvies" for me. Now, let me tell you what has happened with this little experiment.
See, I am still whole-heartedly inviting people to church and I will still speak about my faith with anyone and everyone. But now it's harder because they do not "see me coming". With the collar on, I have always assumed that people will come to me; that they will initiate the conversation with me (they do from time to time, usually by starting with, "are you a priest?"). Now, I have to do it, now I have to initiate it. Now I have to think about how I plan on doing this. I've become quite the little evangelist over the last few weeks, you'd be proud. I have also discovered that people seem much less "uptight" in speaking with me about God when I am in my pink shirt. I do eventually get around to telling them what I do but the conversation starts with us on the same level, not the "priest" and the "lay person", church hierarchy kind of thing. I have really taken a liking to the conversations I am having and I feel like I am more free to speak about the Lord of my life and the church that I love in a way that doesn't seem so threatening to people who do not know me. I'm digging it, in other words.
The point. What is your strategy? Do you have one? Are you in the habit of speaking about your faith? Do you invite people to your church? Do you think of ways to nudge it in to conversations? It is important to think about these things, and, if fearful thoughts enter into your mind when you do, to sort out why the fear is there. We are very soon going to spend some time thinking about these things.
In the 10th chapter of Romans, Paul said this:
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Am I making you nervous? Do Paul's words make you uneasy, as in let's skip that 10th chapter please? I know it makes me nervous too. Yet, I also know that people come to know Christ through you and through me. We like to relegate this whole thing to the Baptists and the people that go to those non-denominational churches or to the real evangelicals out there and Episcopalians don't really do that sort of thing. Well, we do.
Consider this a little primer. Think about this stuff. Think hard. How might we do this? How might we have the conversations? How can we do what Paul is talking about? I really can't wait for us to talk about this!!! Maybe God is going to do something with our conversations and maybe we will figure out how to speak about our faith! With someone else! What do you think? Are you willing to talk about it? We will! So for now, just think about it...pray about it.
And don't say "Jesus" and "limes" in the same sentence.