Do clothes make the man?

Father David Epps's picture

I have discovered that, at times, clothes do make the man ... or at least assist the man.

From time to time, someone will ask, “Why do you wear that clergy collar?”

Well, the simplest answer is because it is part of my uniform and, when “on duty,” it is expected. A better answer came the other day on a flight up North.

When I went to pick up my rental car, the lady taking care of my contract asked me about my church and then began to tell me about some troubles she was having with her children.

Her infant daughter had been sick for the better part of a month and her 8-year-old son was having serious behavioral problems. On top of all that, she was trying to get into an apartment and the absences from her job caused by staying with her sick child and the appointments at school because of the problems her son was having had cut deeply into her income.

Then she began to share with me about her friend, a young, vibrant 36-year-old former U.S. Marine, who had suffered a severe stroke and is now disabled. I promised to pray about all these situations.

After dinner that same night, I went back to the place where I was staying and the owner of the bed and breakfast introduced me to one of the ladies who was also staying there that week. She was in town for her son’s trial, the details of which are unimportant.

What was important was that the young son was facing 120 years in jail and, no, he wasn’t accused of killing anybody. I listened to the story and right there on the stairs, I prayed for her.

A few minutes later, she brought me her cell phone. Her son was calling from jail. And she told him I’d pray for him. I took the phone, chatted with him for a while and asked if he’d like for me to pray. He seemed genuinely eager for someone to speak to God on his behalf so I did.

None of this is particularly unusual, at least for the last few years. For some 25 years as a pastor I wore a casual shirt or a shirt and tie — sometimes a suit. As far as the public was concerned I was invisible.

But, 11 years ago, when the clergy shirt became my uniform of the day, it was as though I suddenly appeared and was instantly recognized as “available.”

I have prayed for people in fast food restaurants, hospitals, airplanes, hotels, book stores, coffee shops, and a number of other places — all because people saw the shirt and said, “Can you pray for me?”

There’s a down side. I always have to be on the alert that someone might see me do something “un-ministerial” while I have the shirt on.

Recently, in Selma, Ala., I was in a restaurant wearing “normal” clothes having breakfast. I somehow knocked over a cup of hot coffee which landed in my lap. Out of my mouth erupted a very non-priest-like utterance — several times.

Unfortunately, there was someone nearby who I think overheard me who was, himself, a priest in civilian clothing.

I think I would do better if I slept in the shirt. At least I would always be on my best behavior.

Still, like a police uniform, the shirt sends a silent message. It says, “I represent God, I’m available, I’ll pray for you, and I am safe.” At least until I spill hot coffee in my lap.

login to post comments | Father David Epps's blog