At least, that’s what folks tell you when they’re giving you job advice. A variation given me by one of my div school profs was “dress for the game you’re playing.” I get these, in the sense that you shouldn’t show up to a job interview in cut-off shorts and an old band shirt, but as a woman this becomes quite a tightrope of expectations—and all the more so as a woman pastor, because of course pastors have this whole other set of rules by which we need to live (please read the sarcasm there).
I’ve been thinking about this because Friday night I was invited to the birthday celebration of one of my parishioners. It was at a rooftop bar in downtown Wicket Gate and the parishioner (who is really close to my age, which is to say a millennial) told me to “look spiffy” since it was, after all, a Friday night in the city. In case you haven’t gathered, I’m not much of one for late nights on the town and I’m definitely more comfortable spending Friday night watching “Star Trek” episodes (“The Next Generation” forever, fight me on it) than bar-hopping with friends. It’s just not my scene, so I don’t really have clothes for the occasion, but hey, I welcome the challenge. I ended up wearing dark jeans, boots, and a shirt that has only one strap over the shoulder like a sari. What this translates to is that I was basically in a tube top with my shoulder tattoo on display and my newly-buzz-cut hair making me fierce as all get-out. I felt pretty awesome, I won’t lie—but I very nearly talked myself into changing about four different times because how dare I show so much skin.
That, Reader, is bullshit. And I wanted to call myself on it, and my culture, and all of the expectations that go along with it. I, as a female, can bare my shoulders and arms all I want, because if you can’t handle my collarbone being on display I am not the problem. And I, as a pastor, should not have to worry about losing the respect of my parishioners for looking like a millennial out on the town on a Friday night because that’s what I am. Hiding that does no one any favors, and in fact continues the weird mess the Church has gotten itself into of seeming to be this off-limits Sunday space where you put on skirts and haloes for an hour and then go live your actual life the other six days. Over and over again I read articles about how we millennials want authenticity above all else, and I am so glad that I went to that party and drank drinks (which definitely surprised one other parishioner who was there, in a good way, because he didn’t think pastors can drink—and how, darlin’) and wore this shirt that proclaims I have skin, and a body, and a hand-sized tattoo, and I am not going to be ashamed of any of that.
I still think that you should dress for the job you want, but I don’t want a job where I have to wear a completely buttoned-up blouse all the time. I don’t want a job where I have to hide that I have a female body, not to the extreme of wearing short shorts in the pulpit but to the extent of recognizing that when I’m not on the chancel I am more than the office. And that seems to work well; I ended up spending most of the party talking with this couple who had never been able to find a church home in the five years they’ve been together because both of them have a lot of pain from being turned out of their previous churches for being gay. They told me basically their life stories and one showed me pictures of his kids from a previous marriage and perhaps they’ll come to my church at some point, I don’t know. What I do know is that I was absolutely acting as pastor for them that night, even and especially in a one-strap shirt with an amaretto sour in one hand.
I was dressed for the job I want. And I got to do that job, because I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about what I’m wearing. After all, God is the One Who made me female. God is the One Who called me to the pastorate. I have the utmost respect for that office, but I refuse to stop being a person in my daily life because I could not be a good pastor if I did. That parishioner didn’t invite A Religious Leader to his party. He invited his pastor, his friend.
And told her to look spiffy. Reader, she did.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)