Collar and Pearls

I’m in a leadership class. You might know the type…a group of leaders come together to learn more about leadership in a small group setting. Speakers come in; we read a book on leadership; we complete a project as a group. They have them all over the country in different forms. A few weeks ago my class, all young professionals ages 22-40, was on retreat. We did the requisite Myers-Briggs and a ropes course, and thankfully ended with happy hour. And there was an hour of class time dedicated to “Professional Etiquette.” Now lets just start out with the fact that we are in Montgomery, Alabama…etiquette is almost a subject in elementary school. This is a place where the first rule I learned was “always save face.” No matter what stupid or ridiculous thing someone is doing, make sure you don’t point out that stupid or ridiculous thing and hopefully they can save face. This is also a place where I finally decided 2 years ago that even though I was not married, I was going to pick my silver pattern anyway. Dang it. So there.

In this etiquette class we spent at least 15 minutes on shaking hands. We were told the proper space to be apart, how long to hold on, how firm to hold. Shaking hands is a universal greeting and for the professional world, it is the only accepted greeting. It was remotely interesting and if nothing, shaking hands became an inside joke for the retreat. The next morning at church before the service we (my 2 fellow male clergy and I) were standing at the door welcoming people. Having just been schooled in shaking hands, I was more aware of our greetings than usual. I noticed one key difference in the greetings of my male counterparts and my greetings. More times than not, they got a handshake. More times than not, I got a nod of the head or a kiss on the cheek.

Intrigued by my morning, I have continued to watch closely how parishioners greet me as compared to “the boys,” as I affectionately call them. I could begin now to rant and rave about how unfair and unequally I am treated, but I will save that for another time because I am SO often treated unequally that I am beginning to wonder if I will ever be equal, and am not ready to write about it just yet. I do think that there is something quite familiar and respectful in it—the kiss on the cheek that is. Yes, the head nod is a little disappointing; it just doesn’t carry much connotation at all. But the kiss is so…so…touching. I am a female and in the south there is simply a respect given a lady that is different. Doors get opened, not because I can’t, but because it’s nice. My chair gets pulled out, because that’s how it’s done. Cars get “brought around” for us if it’s raining because it’s the right thing to do. This is how you treat a lady.

While I do fight to be equal in so many ways as a female clergy person, I have recently become aware of some of the quiet respect I am given. If I had to choose between being a clergy person and being a southern lady I might just choose the southern lady. There is something irreplaceable about making cucumber sandwiches on white bread, wearing pearls, and knowing the difference between Francis the I and Burgundy (silver patterns, by the way).

Of course, these are all things I do in my collar, and so the conundrum continues for my parish: what do we do with the clergy who wears a pink coat and pearls? Kiss her on the cheek, I guess.

3 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    yes, being treated unequally with the boys is distressing…..but I grew up in a family culture where we hug and kiss coming in and going out…and I still have a little stain on my preaching robe where the dear little (short!) ladies used to hug me and get face powder on me in my internship church- I cant bear to have it cleaned out because it reminds me of them and their love for a woman who was struggling to learn how to be a pastor!

  2. Betsy T
    Betsy T says:

    Even here in the impolite North, I get the doors opened thing. I just attribute it to the ladyship thing and move on. I have yet to find it expressed as respect, though. I have only served wounded parishes (and it makes me lose my faith in church at times) and I got sick to death of the “you’re just like my daughter, cutie-pie!” face.
    I do love that you picked out your silver. My thing was buying my good kitchen appliances. As ladies, we should never wait until we get married before we give ourselves permission to have nice things. I never regretted my Cuisinart, even if I didn’t get it in a fancy wedding paper. (Though I confess that now, I might lie and say an item was a gift just to have the fun of unwrapping…)
    I also love the tagline… my secret solace job is librarian, and on the days when I research which library school I am going to go to, I love that other girl clergy also consider running away.

  3. Kelsey Johnson
    Kelsey Johnson says:

    I’m a female pastor in Valley, not far from Montgomery. My parishioners call me “Little Preacher,” and I love it. I know how to be petite and female and a lover of God. I do not know how to be a big strong male and a lover of God. I’m glad they accept me for the “little preacher” that I am.


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