Collar encounters, updated

I think I’ve written about what it’s like to wear a clerical collar around town. Veteran priests have warned me that a collar could cause difficulty in certain situations. I’m sure it does, but I’ve yet to experience that. Instead, wearing a collar has opened doors and led to fascinating conversations. Early this summer, for example, I was in the Home Depot buying something on my way home from the church and an employee came up to me and asked me to pray for him. We spent a few minutes talking about the things that were troubling him, and then, right there in the parking lot, we prayed.

Last night, we went to a restaurant downtown after the service. I was starved, so I didn’t take the time to change clothes. We had a lovely meal and a great time. Our server treated us like royalty and we chatted about the wine, pork belly, and all sorts of things. Eventually the conversation turned to church. I identified myself as an Episcopal priest and our server shared with us his story. As a teen he was an active member of a small parish in our diocese and he spoke with great emotion and affection for that experience. That church was open and loving, and the rector’s door was always open to a teenager who was trying to figure things out. Most memorable of all was the youth group’s outing to an AC/DC concert. He’s not a member of an Episcopal church now. Of course I invited him to our services. Perhaps we will see him one day.

We came away from that encounter curiously reassured about what we do in the church. Oh, I know, all of the church growth gurus and consultants would label this man “unchurched” but from what he shared of his life last night, he’s pretty together. I’m guessing when he’s ready to look for a church he will look first at an Episcopal parish. My prayer is that when he does, he will find one as open and loving as the one he holds in his memory. In the meantime if he approaches all of his tables with the grace and sensitivity that he did ours last night, he is already a witness to the love of Christ.

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