Post Author: Julie A. Jensen
This column, “When the Collar Comes Off,” is about the multi-faceted human person who is the ordained minister; the myriad of interests and activities engaged in by Young Clergy Women when they’re not “at work.” This month’s contribution, what one clergywoman went through when her collar was forced to come off for a season, is a different take on this concept.
Sometimes we do not choose when our collars come off; the choice is made for us. That’s how it happened for me. I was in a call I had loved for 6 years when I was told the position was no longer mine. I was given a 6-month severance package and a party, and then had to say goodbye to a congregation I had not yet planned on leaving, who had not yet planned on me leaving them.
I spent the first month resting, healing, having lunch with friends, and processing. I rejoiced in my ability to go home to be with family for Thanksgiving and to be home on Christmas Eve for the first time since I was ordained. I updated my Personal Information Form (PIF) and began the search for the next call.
The holiday season came and went, and January turned into February, and the wheels were still moving slowly. Things got…desperate. So I began the search for a job that would pay the bills in the meantime. It turns out, however, that if your Master’s Degree is in the field of Divinity, and you are an ordained minister, people really don’t want to hire you. I was on ten job websites, registered with four temp agencies, chasing every lead I could, and kept getting rejected. As the clock ticked towards when I would receive my last severance check, I took myself out to lunch one Sunday to one of my favorite restaurants. I sat at the bar, eating my food and listening to one of the hostesses tell a customer that they were hiring. I picked up an application on my way out.
The running joke in my house used to be that it’s always good to have a skill to fall back on. I had been a server and a hostess in high school and college, and the skills stayed with me. I had experience, I was good with people, I promised not to try to convert them to Jesus, and then I had a job: waiting tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant.
I wasn’t sure if my collar had come off for good. I kept my head down and served – literally. I was still doing pulpit supply and working with a small church session, but waiting tables was my daily bread. It was hard. So, so hard. Long hours, cranky customers, learning how to relate to a whole new group of people. I didn’t say much about being a pastor, but word got around, and about once a week for a while I’d be greeted with a variation of, “Oh, s**t, you’re a pastor??” Yes, yes I am. As I grew closer to the rest of the staff, they figured out that even though I was always in the weeds (restaurant terminology for being behind), I was someone they could talk to. By not having my collar on, the door had opened for conversation and relationship.
As it turns out, I used my pastoral skills in a variety of ways. I used my people skills to work on marketing and promotion, and my sense of humor to name myself the “chips and salsa angel” on the days I took samples to local businesses. I got to dress like Hermione Granger for a Halloween outreach event. I organized a food drive and an angel tree for Christmas. I remember rolling silverware one night with a server as she told me the tremendous story of her health journey, what she had overcome, and what decisions she had to make about her future. On Mondays, one of the managers and I would swap sermons – she told me about the one she heard, and I told her about the one I preached. I blessed a motorcycle and had a pre-op prayer in the bar on a Sunday night. I stressed with college students preparing for exams. On more than one occasion I saw a coworker praying to make enough to have something leftover after paying the cab to get to work. I watched as they pieced together multiple jobs to pay the bills. (When you depend on a minimum wage job to pay the bills, the world is an almost impossible place to live.) I was a confidante and a friend to this crew of servers, cooks, bartenders, and dishwashers. One of them brought his wife to hear me preach. I continued doing pulpit supply the entire time I worked at the restaurant, wondering if I was still a pastor without a church, but a lot of what I was doing at the restaurant looked a lot like…ministry.
One of most valuable lessons I learned from this experience was that even though I didn’t wear my clerical collar to work every day, it hadn’t really come off. For the nine months that I worked at a restaurant and searched for full-time employment in the church, I heard God saying very clearly that in a church or not, I am called to minister to God’s people. Sometimes that is robed on Sunday morning in the sanctuary; sometimes it is winning steak knives and sunglasses while selling the most margaritas in a week (#truestory). It’s not the collar that defines us pastorally. It’s not the sanctuary or the office that facilitates our ministry. Collar or not, my call from God means I will always be a pastor. I just may be one who sometimes serves chips and salsa and takes your dinner order.
Rev. Julie A. Jensen is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). She currently serves as Transitional Pastor at Nineveh Presbyterian Church, and has heard all of the Jonah jokes. After working in a restaurant, she wants everyone to know that if the food is bad, it's not your server’s fault, and you should not stiff her. She encourages everyone to tip generously - you never know if you may be buying diapers for babies or groceries for a family with what you leave behind.
Image by: Shawna Pierson
Used with permission