Do Lutheran Clergy Wear Collars? Get the Facts

In churches all over the world, clergy wear distinctive clothes that distinguish them from their congregants. The style and color of clerical clothing varies between denomination and tradition. Clergy in the Lutheran tradition often wear formal attire and many people wonder if they wear collars like Catholic priests.

Many Lutheran pastors wear clerical collars, but the practice can vary by denomination and individual church. The collar has an important symbolic meaning. Sometimes it’s the minister’s decision whether or not to wear a collar.

What is the rationale behind wearing a clerical collar and why do pastors often pair it with black clothing? Is there any difference between the clothing of Lutheran pastors and Catholic priests? Read on to find answers to these questions and others about clerical clothing.

Lutheran minister
Some pastors wear collars every day, but “vestments” are worn during services

Why do some pastors wear clerical collars?

Clergy in many Christian traditions wear a clerical collar, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Eastern Orthodox . Although the rationale for each church and tradition differs slightly, some common reasons exist. (Also see Do Lutheran Call Their Pastors Father?)

Clerical collars signify a minister’s role in a church

First, collars serves as a symbol of the minister’s special role within church and society. The job of being a minister is no small undertaking, and special articles of clothing, such as the clerical collar, tells those around the minister that that he has dedicated their life to leading the flock of the church.

Those pastors or priests who choose to wear the collar not only during services but also throughout the week further remind their congregants of the perpetual nature of their special role. This can be especially effective if ministers wear the clerical collar in a place or area where no one personally knows them. (Also see the full article Do Lutheran Churches Have Priests?)

Strangers feel safe to approach the ministers with a need, question or request simply because they recognize the collar as a sign of the ministry. In this way, the collar can serve as an evangelistic tool. One Lutheran pastor writes,

“As someone once put it, when a pastor wears a clerical collar in public he is proclaiming ‘God is open for business.’ There are other ways to do this, but for me the simple, straightforward, and intentional wearing of a clerical collar provides a way to declare that “God is open for business” that has resulted in a multitude and variety of opportunities to speak of Jesus with people of all kinds.” [1]

Clerical collars convey holiness

Besides providing a recognizable sign of leadership in the church, the clerical collar also holds specific symbolism. Almost without exception, the clerical collar is white. This color represents purity and the forgiveness of sins.

One of the primary jobs of a Christian minister is to preach the good news of forgiveness that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross washes clean the sins of those who believe in him. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe in Predestination?)

Because the collar is the closest article of clothing to the minister’s mouth, the whiteness of the collar reminds the pastor and the congregation of the minister’s role of preaching the message of the spotless lamb of God to the congregation.

Typically, the darker shades of the rest of the pastor’s clothing reinforces this point by providing a contrast to the whiteness of the collar. (Also see Lutheran vs Episcopalian: What’s the Difference?)

In 1865, a Presbyterian minister was the first person to wear the collar to distinguish himself from his congregation. Eventually, other church traditions caught on, starting with the Anglicans and spreading throughout the other denominations.

In general, only churches with liturgical styles of worship services still use the clerical collar, which goes by several other names, such as the clergy collar, the Roman collar, and, more informally, the dog collar. (Also see Lutheran vs Non-Denominational: What’s the Difference?)

Lutheran pastor
Clergy in many Christians wear black clothing

Why do some pastors wear black clothing?

Another distinctive form of dress for the Christian minister is black or dark clothing. There are at least of handful of reason for using this color. The most straightforward is this: people associate black shirts, pants, and robes with church leadership.

Many who show up to a church building desire that a pastor lead and counsel them in personal or theological matters. Uniform dress removes any sort of confusion concerning where to direct these concerns. (Also see Do Lutherans Pray for the Dead?)

Another related benefit of ministers wearing black is that it removes cultural barriers as far as style of clothing. Men of the cloth have been wearing black for hundreds of years, amid ever-changing styles and preferences in clothing.

At the same time, as in the case of the clerical collar, black clothing also holds important meaning. While the whiteness of the collar represents the spotlessness of the believer hidden in Christ, the black of the clothing reminds the pastor and the congregation of the reality of death and sin. (Also see Here is the Lutheran View on Marriage and Clergy)

In many important ways, leaders in the church choose death so their congregation might live. For instance, priests in the Catholic Church, with a few exceptions, may not marry. Metaphorically, they put to death any possibility of a family in order, at least in the view of the Catholic Church, to better serve their flock.

In all Christian traditions, Catholic and Protestant ministers model for their congregants the daily practice of dying to oneself to live for God and his purposes. Many also associate the color black with humility.

“Symbolically black is associated with simplicity and humility and reminds priests of their need to imitate those virtues. Black is also a color that represents death and mourning and symbolizes how a priest is to die to oneself and decrease so that God may increase in his life. He is called to take up the cross of Our Lord daily, dying to sin so that he may rise in the life of grace.” [2]

Pastors believe that their calling to be ministers is based upon God’s grace and not upon any merit of their own.

Comparing the clerical attire of Lutheran ministers and Catholic priests

The clothing worn by Lutheran pastors and Catholic priests share many similarities, and many times, in fact, are identical. This is no accident. Luther himself was a monk of the Augustinian order before his initiation of a global movement in Christianity. (Also see Do Lutherans Celebrate Lent?)

From the start, Luther wished to reform Christianity, not reinvent it in every particular. His measuring stick was the Bible, and where the Bible was silent, he held great reverence for the traditions of the church.

Accordingly, in many cases, he did not feel the need to change the nature of the clothing of ministers. Lutheran pastors and Catholic priests regularly wear of combination of the same types of garments. For daily, non-liturgical clothing, ministers of both traditions often wear a white clerical collar with a black dress shirt.

However, within the Lutheran Church, especially in the United States, the extent to which ministers wear traditional formal clothing throughout the week varies depending on the region, pastor, and local church. In the Catholic Church, there tends to be more uniformity. (Also see Do Lutherans Believe in Angels?)

What are vestments?

Vestments, on the other hand, are garments that leaders of the church wear during liturgical services. Both Catholic and Lutheran leaders wear a combination of the cassock, stole, alb, and pectoral cross. In addition to these items, Catholic priests sometimes wear other articles of clothing as well, such as the biretta or the cincture. In general, the garments worn by Catholic priests are more complicated than that of Lutheran ministers. [3]

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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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