Seven Priests walk into a bar… Liam Williams reflects on how we witness by what we wear.
A story appeared in the news this week where several students for the Catholic priesthood were denied entry to a local pub in Cardiff to celebrate the ordination of a fellow student. The bar staff at first did not serve the group as they were wearing cassocks and thought that they were out on a stag do. After some minutes of trying to persuade the member of staff the manager came across and asked again if they were the real deal. The manager then apologised to the group and brought them a round on the house. As the group entered again, the locals broke out in applause and they were more than happy to ask questions about why they were there and what they do.
In some of the comments made under articles about the incident, many people are asking why is this a story? And what is the significance of them wearing what they do? But the one question is – do we as Christians need to wear anything to show our faith or to be a witness?
In the Catholic tradition, priests wear cassocks and have a white collar. This practice goes back to the middle ages but was made compulsory for the clergy to wear them in 1725 by Pope Benedict XIII. The attire has several meanings to the wearer. The collar is a sign of obedience, the sash or fascia is a sign of chastity and the colour black is for poverty. So, that meant if you saw a person wearing such things down the street you could set him apart as a priest.
In modern days, priests and pastors have reverted to wearing a black shirt with a collar and sometimes they don’t even have the collar in place. But they still carry out their vocation. People can tell them apart and can sometimes feel more comfortable to go to them if they are in civilian clothes. But that can mean the same to us. We don’t have to wear a collar to show people scripture or to pray for someone.
The seminarians were not allowed in because of the way they looked, not because of who they are. It also shows that if more clergy wore their clerical garbs more, then mix ups like this shouldn’t happen again.
By Liam Williams, former SCM Trustee