One of the big differences between Lutherans and Episcopalians is the whole collar thing. In the Episcopal church, there are rules when someone can wear a collar. For Lutherans, there’s a sense of when a collar is appropriate but, really, if you’re in seminary and on an ordination track, you could wear one. I tend to wear one when I preach or when I visit someone in an official role. For Episcopalians, to wear a collar before you are ordained is just not done. It’s not like wearing white after Labor Day; it would be seen as assuming a role that the church has not given you yet. To do so is improper, ridiculous, threatening, and could get you in trouble.
But once a seminarian is ordained as a deacon (which, I think, is like a priest but with mojo), the rules are off. For some seniors, they are ordained a deacon a few months before they graduate. The idea is that they’ll be ordained a priest six months, or so, down the line. Seniors who are Deacons serve in the chapel in an official capacity (they get to assist at the table). It is not rare for me to see a bunch of seniors wearing their collars all around campus. They’re proud of where they are and I can’t hate on them for wearing it. But it seems that there is still a sense that some wear their collar a tad too much. There is a term on campus for when a seminarian seems to be stuck in their collar. They called it “pastor-bating.”
Yes, it’s crude, but I laughed the first time I heard it. And I usually chuckle when I hear it now. But it took me a day or two to realize that there are two insults buried in this one phrase. I think it’s obvious to get the masturbation reference but the other one is a tad hidden, even for Lutherans. The thing is, these folks aren’t being crudely identified only for their embracement of their status symbols. They’re also be degraded by being called a pastor. For a Lutheran, being a pastor is what we are; to call us otherwise would be weird. But a true Episcopalian M.Div. at GTS isn’t a pastor, they are on their way to be a priest. The word isn’t “priest-bating!” The individual is being degraded by being called a pastor first!
It’s a subtle twist and it shows the power of language. Unless I had thought about it, I would never have picked out the degrading reference to pastor in “pastor-bating. But it’s there and a sign of one of the inherent tensions between Lutherans and Episcopalians in the very language that we use to define ourselves. And even when we do call ourselves by the same term (i.e. Bishop), we still are talking about two different things. Even after the Call to Common Mission, the reality is that our relationship together is a strange one when you look at the nitty gritty. And even in our internal insults, it isn’t hard to see how the other is degraded when we degrade our colleagues. Whether that language will ever change, I don’t know. As long as we’re on this side of the eschaton, we’re going to be jerks to each other. But this has least strengthened my own recognition of the power of language even within the hierarchy of the church. How to fix it..well…I’m not sure yet. But if I figure it out, I’ll make sure to let you know.