Ordination & Seminary Graduation Gift Ideas

When I was getting ready to be ordained, my dad called me up and said, “So, should we buy you a chalice?”

I thought about it for a minute, trying to imagine what on earth I would do with my own personal silver chalice.

I said, “Is that a thing?”

He said, “I thought so. When I was growing up, if a guy from the neighborhood got ordained, the family always bought him a chalice.”

I don’t know whether the personal chalice is still a custom for Catholic priests, but I was pretty sure I didn’t need one of my own. This did not help my family and friends with ordination gift selection at all. Still, they managed to give me some killer presents, several of which I use every single day. If you are on the hunt for an ordination gift or seminary graduation gift, here are a few ideas that are all but guaranteed to be well-received:

Diploma/certificate frame. It is pretty awesome to be able to show off your hard-earned ordination certificate or seminary diploma, but good frames are expensive, so often these treasured documents just sit in mailing tubes for years. If you have around $170 to spend and want a gift that is beautiful AND useful, buy your seminarian a frame with that special UV-protective glass so that the diploma won’t fade. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Take your seminarian and her diploma or certificate to a custom frame store and pick out a frame together.
  • Buy your seminarian a gift certificate to a custom frame store (an especially good option if she is about to move and would rather just leave the diploma in the mailing tube until she gets settled).
  • Campus bookstores often sell diploma frames that are decked out with the school crest and stuff. Call your seminarian’s campus bookstore (or check out its website) and see if you can find one.

Magazine subscription. Now, there are some weird Christian magazines out there. I am not suggesting that you buy your new graduate a year’s supply of Above Rubies or Midnight Call. However, any of these could be a nice treat:

Wristwatch. There are many moments in ministry when you need to know the time, yet it is in decidedly poor taste to yank out your phone. (The graveside service that takes place immediately before the funeral, for example.) While it is possible to spend four or five or six or seven figures on a watch, you can also find plenty of elegant and professional options for much much less. Here are a few that I like, including a lot of Timex and Anne Klein at the lower end because neither brand has ever steered me wrong.

Options under $30:

  • Anne Klein Two-Tone (gold/silver-tone band, rectangular white face)
  • Timex Cavatina (black leather band, white face)
  • Timex Uptown Chic (white leather band, white/gold-tone face)
  • Timex Weekender (this version comes with a blue nylon band, but it’s easy to switch out bands to dress it up or down — my wife wears her Weekender with about half a dozen different watchbands, including black leather for dressing up and green-and-yellow nylon for Oregon game days. Go Ducks!)

Options under $50:

Options under $100:

Monogrammed stationery. My priestly life is one long heroic endeavor to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business. Thank-you-for-running-the-evensong-reception notes. I-enjoyed-seeing-you-in-the-school-play notes. Sorry-to-hear-about-the-death-in-your-family notes. The-confirmation-class-appreciated-your-tour-of-the-sacristy notes. Any clergyperson worth her salt is always going to have a use for nice stationery and a decent pen.

Bookstore gift certificate with a heartfelt handwritten note suggesting your favorite religious book, which the recipient may then purchase herself. Why not just give her the book? There are a few reasons, buddy. First of all, she already has three copies of Mere Christianity. Second, books are heavy and she might be about to move. Third, how are you going to feel if you learn that the book that changed your life is, uh, not quite to her taste? Unless you know the recipient and her preferences VERY well, just let her pick the book out herself. With one exception …

Denominational prayer book or hymnal (bonus for engraving!). In my tradition, this is the Book of Common Prayer & Hymnal 1982. It’s cheapest on Amazon, of course, but if you order it from Episcopal Bookstore, you’ll be supporting a small business with great customer service AND they’ll engrave the recipient’s name on it in gold for just $13. Note: This is also a popular farewell gift from church internship sites, so do discreetly find out whether your seminarian already has one.

Why not a Bible? See above. I have an entire SHELF of Bibles in my office, not including the two very nice ones I was presented with at my two ordinations (diaconate and priesthood). It’s a nice thought and the recipient will surely appreciate the spirit of the gift, but you can find something else that will be put to better use.

Stole! Everybody loves a stole! See the Rock That Collar vestment guide for tips on colors and styles. Some sources for clergy stoles (no promises re: taste) are:

Remember, when in doubt, look for quality fabrics and simple design. A stole like this might make a good wall hanging, but woe to the Episcopalian or Lutheran who tries to pull off such a thing at the Sunday morning service.

Clerical attire. For my ordination, my cousins and aunts banded together and bought me a clergy dress from Casual Priest. It was a wonderfully lavish gift, but darned if I don’t wear that dress at least twice a week, every single week. The cost per wear is plummeting fast.

If you don’t have $220 or an army of relatives to help share the cost, I highly recommend the made-to-measure shirts and dresses from Clergy Image. A gift certificate for any amount is not a bad bet.

Cross necklace. Who needs points for originality when you can give a gift that the recipient will wear every day? As I’ve said before, a good size of cross to wear with a clergy collar is generally 1.5″-2.5″. A few of my favorites (all sterling silver because the quality for the price can’t be beat) are:

Prayer manipulative. Is there a better term for “thing you hold while you pray”? Many world religions use prayer beads or something similar to help focus the mind during prayer. Depending on the recipient’s tradition, a rosary (with beads made from rose quartz, Connemara marble, Murano glass, lapis lazuli, or another pretty stone), Orthodox prayer rope, or set of Anglican prayer beads* can make a beautiful gift.

Almost every Christian tradition uses the cross as a symbol, so a simple wooden holding cross (sometimes called a “hand cross” or “palm cross,” not to be confused with a cross made out of palms) is also a good bet. One of my favorite ordination presents was a wooden cross from ByRon PalmCross, which I love to hold during daily silent contemplative prayer at my church. Rosary beads are too noisy for this purpose, although I confess that I sometimes say a decade of the rosary by counting on my fingers.**

*In my household, we refer to Anglican prayer beads as “the fake rosary.” I’ve never actually met anyone who uses these as part of a regular prayer practice, but I’m sure I will someday.

**I love to pray the rosary, provided I modify the Hail, Holy Queen to make it less depressing and the Fatima Prayer to make it less scary. More on this in some other post.

Travel Communion kit. I just bought a sterling silver necklace at our church rummage sale for $2, so I’m not sure why silver-plated communion items are so preposterously expensive. Almy has the nerve to call its smallest travel kit “economical” at $559. However, if you have an enormous amount of money or a LOT of relatives who want to chip in for a gift, some clergy like to have their own travel Communion kits. Engraving the kit with the recipient’s initials is a charming personal touch and will also prevent other clergy from mistaking it for their own.

Nice leather bag. To replace the ubiquitous grad-student backpack. My first pick will always be a black leather tote big enough to hold a laptop and a prayer book. Some nice choices (all under $200, some under $100) include:

Massage gift certificate. Because not EVERY gift has to last a lifetime. Most graduate students are very short on money or time or both, and small luxuries often drop way down to the bottom of the priority list. I assure you that the gift of a nice massage will be very, very, very much appreciated.

Did you receive a treasured ordination gift that isn’t on this list? What do you like to give to friends who are completing seminary or getting ordained? Let me know in the comments!

What to Wear to a Clergy Job Interview When You Are Not Yet Ordained

Oooooh it is your last semester of seminary! The graduation gown has been rented! The denominational exams have been passed! And the long-awaited job interview is finally on the calendar. Nice work, proto-Reverend.

But wait. The job you want is a clergy job … so normally you would wear a clergy collar to the interview? Except you don’t have a clergy collar because you won’t get ordained until June.

Fear not. I am here to help.

For most any job interview but definitely for a clergy job, and especially if you are interviewing in a large, well-heeled suburban parish (where a lot of us start out because that’s who can afford to hire assistant pastors, natch), it is a great big pain in the neck to decide what to wear because you are expected to look both

1) stylish; and
2) extremely conservative.

How conservative are we talking? Pretend that you will be wearing your outfit to a campaign fundraiser for your husband, who is a Republican running for local office. That is how the search committee will expect you to look.

Is this fair? Of course not. Church job interviews are not some kind of secret decontamination zone, shielded from the putrescent stench of sexism that pervades everything else in this broken world. The thing is, to start fixing the system from the inside, first you have to get the job.

The trick, then, is to find an outfit that fits these crappy parameters but still makes you feel awesome. Your approach will of course be shaped by many factors, not least your age, gender presentation and personal style, but here’s the tried-and-true formula that works for me:

What to Wear to a Clergy Job Interview When You Are Not Yet Ordained

collage clergy job interview outfit

shop the look: dress | blazer | shoes | pantyhose (ugh) | earrings

Comfy stretchy sheath dress. I love sheath dresses generally. One piece and bam! you’re dressed! And no need to fuss around with a blouse that will inevitably come untucked from your slacks or pencil skirt. Besides, if you are trying to assemble an interview outfit at the Goodwill twelve hours before your interview, choosing a dress means you only have to dig through one rack of clothes instead of two.

The perfect dress for a job interview is comfortable to sit in and gently skims your body shape — fit-and-flare dresses, although they are cute as can be, are not interview attire. Get whatever color you want, but stick with a solid color or a very subtle print. Length should be within an inch of your kneecap, and neckline should be high enough that there’s no cleavage exposure when you bend forward. Use a mirror to check.

The good news here is that, if there is no thrift store handy, you can buy yourself a cheap dress and still look pretty good. If you’re on a serious budget, get yourself to Target. If you can afford to spend $50, the world is your dress-oyster. LOFT makes tons of interview-appropriate dresses and always seems to be having a sale; try this mixed-media sheath or plum sheath WITH POCKETS, or these polka dots if that’s your style, or this gorgeous coral cutout-neck dress. If the LOFT dress you really want isn’t on sale right now, wait twenty minutes and then look again.

Blazer. To look good with a sheath dress, a blazer should have a hem that hits you between navel and mid-hip. Keep the color and cut simple and the fit perfect. If you can’t button it or it feels tight across the back when you cross your arms, it is too small. If you can button it and comfortably fit your laptop inside it with you, it is too big. If the sleeves cover any part of your thumbs when your arms are at your sides, they are too long — zip over to a tailor and get them shortened.

A wool blazer is a great investment if you can afford it, but my favorite interview blazer came from a thrift store by way of Body by Victoria and it fits me pretty well so it looks fine. If you prefer to shop for blazers at a store best known for selling something other than lingerie, hit up Express, LOFT, J. Crew Factory, Nordstrom, or a mid-range department store of your choosing.

Pantyhose. Ugh, I know. But remember your imaginary Republican husband. His constituents will be shocked if you are bare-legged at the fundraiser. They are the worst.

Fortunately for you, Kate Middleton has brought pantyhose back into style! To look as good in them as she does, don’t buy them in a plastic egg at the drugstore, and match them to your skin tone as closely as possible. If you’re between sizes, size up so that you can breathe. For darker skin tones, Nubian Skin (available at Nordstrom) draws good reviews. For lighter skin tones, I like Nordstrom Rack’s in-house Shimera brand, which is fairly durable and will only set you back $6.

Uncomfortable shoes. Unless you will have to spend several hours walking and standing (e.g., your interview includes leading worship or teaching sample lessons), now is the time to dust off a pair of shoes that are achy but stunning.

“Stunning” in a professional context is best achieved by pointed toes, slender heels, and minimal frippery. I love wearing loud shoes in the pulpit, especially red patent (for Pentecost!) or snakeskin (for … the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit?), but save those for when you already have the job. Stick with shoes in one color and pick a heel height you can walk in. Here are some good choices from Cole Haan (lower heel and higher heel), Clarks (lower heel and higher heel), and Jessica Simpson (slender heel, block heel and wedge). More expensive shoes, as a rule, are going to be more tolerable for your feet. Too bad your student loans don’t know that.

If you can’t walk in heels or refuse to wear them on principle, what you need are a pair of stylish professional flats, which — I hate to be the one to break this to you — will probably also be uncomfortable. Here are a few options to try from BP at Nordstrom, Rockport, Sam Edelman, and Nine West.

What if you have health concerns that force you to prioritize comfort over style? No worries. First, make sure the comfy shoes you plan to wear are in sparkling shape — clean, freshly polished, not worn down at the heel. Second, do consider checking out the offerings from brands that specialize in shoes for difficult feet. Vionic (Orthaheel) makes some darn cute dress shoes, and is an especially popular brand for people with plantar fasciitis. Some of my favorites among their many styles are the Sterling ankle boot, the Upton ankle boot, and the Minna ballet flat. They’re pricey for sure, but if other shoes cause you blinding pain, the investment is worth it.

Simple, elegant hair, nails, and makeup. While my preferred daily hairstyle is the Wet Hair Ponytail, for job interviews I always break out the blow dryer. Your hair doesn’t have to be fancy, but if you wear it long, it should look at least a little bit like you tried.

I keep my fingernails very short, so I never polish them, but I do always make sure they are clean with no ragged edges. If you are the manicure type, your nail polish should be boring in color and free of chips.

If you wear makeup, keep it natural and go easy on the eyeliner. If you don’t wear makeup, at least get in the habit of applying a daily moisturizer with SPF (here’s the one I like, usually cheapest at Target). That’s not an interview tip, just a life tip, brought to you by our rapidly depleting ozone layer.

Understated jewelry. Again, think of your campaign-fundraiser alter ego. Some jewelry she would wear includes:

Some jewelry she would probably leave in the car includes:

  • Dangly or hoop earrings
  • Novelty stud earrings, e.g. those shaped like bees
  • Those thumbnail-sized sparkly stud earrings popularized by Kate Spade
  • Piercings of anything other than the earlobes
  • Silver jewelry that is not freshly polished
  • Gigantic cross necklace
  • Blinged-out plastic statement necklace
  • Long boho tassel necklace
  • Pearl earrings plus pearl necklace plus pearl bracelet (not even the wife of a Republican congressman wants to look THAT much like the wife of a Republican congressman)
  • Plastic digital watch or smart watch
  • Pile of bangle bracelets that jingle continuously
  • Silicone bracelet from charity bike ride
  • Leather wristband from college boyfriend
  • Friendship bracelet from summer camp chaplain gig
  • Enormous fake cocktail ring

Speaking of which, here are a few other items of clothing to save for a different day:

  • Clothing that doesn’t fit you quite right
  • Clothing that is even a teeny little bit damaged or stained
  • Clothing that you can’t comfortably sit down in
  • Shoes that you can’t comfortably walk in
  • Dress or skirt you have to tug to keep it in place
  • Baggy polyester suit purchased at T.J. Maxx in 2008
  • Bra whose function is purely symbolic
  • Underwear whose outline is visible from the next county
  • Pantyhose with runs or snags (carry a backup pair in your purse if you’re worried)
  • Opaque tights (MAYBE I will give you a pass if you wear them with ankle boots)
  • Bare legs (sorry, yo)
  • Loafers
  • Mary Janes
  • Open-toed shoes

What do you think? Am I way off or did I hit it right on the head? And what are your favorite tips for church-gig interview attire?

Idea File: Stations of the Cross, Women of the Passion Edition

I serve a liturgical church, so we walk the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. But it is also a Protestant church, so I have a lot of flexibility in the design of the liturgy, which is good because our sanctuary has very skinny side aisles and accommodating the traditional fourteen stations would be rough.

It’s also good because I sometimes want to highlight other parts of the Passion narratives. Like, what about all the women whose stories we never hear? How come Joseph of Arimathea gets the spotlight while we ignore Mary and Mary Magdalene, who kept watch at Jesus’ tomb?

I searched far and wide for a resource offering devotions based on the women of the Passion, and I found lots of reader’s-theater monologues and ’90s feminist lectionaries and other stuff that looked kind of cool but was so not my church’s jam. What I wanted was a service following a traditional format, with updated stories. So I put one together myself.

I like to assign eight readers, one for each station. The following will make for about a 25-minute service as written, though you could certainly add more to it — candle-lighting, Taizé chant, veneration of the cross — depending on what works in your community and your space.

Please feel free to use, adapt, and share the service below, which draws upon the original Stations of the Cross, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible (NRSV). I was alarmed to learn that Veronica is totally extracanonical, but everyone else is right there in the Good Book.

Stations of the Cross: Women of the Passion

Opening Devotions

Celebrant: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Celebrant: Lord, have mercy.
People: Christ, have mercy.
Celebrant: Lord, have mercy.

Celebrant and People:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Celebrant: We will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ:
People: In whom is our salvation, our life and resurrection.

Celebrant: Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

I. Jesus is anointed by Mary of Bethany

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

As Jesus sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”

Reader: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me:
People: Because the Lord has anointed me.

Celebrant: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

II. Peter is questioned by the woman at the temple gate

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

After Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter and another disciple followed him. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”

Reader: He was despised and rejected by others:
People: As one from whom others hide their faces.

Celebrant: Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to profess his name and follow him; who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

III. The wife of Pilate warns him of her dream

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

While Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. Pilate the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”

Reader:  By a perversion of justice he was taken away:
People:  He was cut off from the land of the living.

Celebrant: Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate injustice, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

IV. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

There followed after Jesus a great multitude of the people, and among them were women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Reader: Those who sowed with tears:
People: Will reap with songs of joy.

Celebrant: Teach your Church, O Lord, to mourn the sins of which it is guilty, and to repent and forsake them; that, by your pardoning grace, the results of our iniquities may not be visited upon our children and our children’s children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

V. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

As Jesus carried his cross, a woman followed him along the way. She approached him with a white cloth and wiped the blood and sweat from his face.

Reader: Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due:
People: When it is within the power of your hands.

Celebrant: Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior came not to be served but to serve: Give us grace to minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

VI. Jesus’ mother and friends remain at his side as he is crucified

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him. Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. With him they crucified two criminals, one on the right, the other on the left, and Jesus between them. And the scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was numbered with the transgressors.”

Reader: They pierce my hands and my feet:
People: They stare and gloat over me.

Celebrant: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

VII. Mary is with Jesus when he dies

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home. Then Jesus said, “It is finished!” And then, crying with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And he bowed his head, and handed over his spirit.

Reader: Christ for us became obedient unto death:
People: Even death on a cross.

Celebrant: O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; who lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

VIII. Mary and Mary Magdalene keep vigil at Jesus’ tomb

Celebrant: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
People: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. When the body of Jesus was buried and evening came, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained, sitting opposite the tomb.

Reader: You will not abandon me to the grave:
People: Nor let your Holy One see corruption.

Celebrant: O God, your blessed Son was laid in a tomb in a garden, and rested on the Sabbath day: Grant that we who have been buried with him in the waters of baptism may find our perfect rest in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
People: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy upon us.

What to Wear to the Youth Retreat

Hello, Reverend. I’ve been offline for a couple of weeks. Why? Because we are in the thick of Youth Retreat Season and I’ve been busy.

If you have anything to do with youth ministry, and especially if you serve a big church, you know all about Youth Retreat Season. Here’s my six-weekend consecutive lineup:

  1. Sixth- and seventh-grade lock-in
  2. Eighth-grade pre-Confirmation retreat in the woods
  3. High school youth group lock-in
  4. Church school baking party (Saturday) and bake sale (Sunday), plus Scout Sunday, but I did get to sleep in my own bed so that was pretty great
  5. ANOTHER eighth-grade pre-Confirmation retreat in the woods (we have a giant class this year and half the class goes on each)
  6. Wait, why don’t I have to go on a retreat this weekend?! … Oh, it’s the Triduum.

I got off the hook for the (grown-up) parish women’s retreat this year, which is probably for the best. I am all retreated out.

However, while I’ve been busy pining for my bed and not blogging, I’ve also had abundant time to reflect on the perfect outfit for leading a winter/spring youth retreat. Have at it.

Graphic T-shirt. Crazy! No clergy collar in sight! Here’s your chance to show what a hip youth pastor you are. I usually waste the opportunity by wearing a youth group T-shirt from my church, though I have to say our youth group T-shirts are pretty cool. (We order from Ministry Gear, which has great customer service and will let you combine short- and long-sleeved shirts in your order. This year the kids voted for this design, though this one is my favorite.)

But if you are cooler than me, look at just a few of your thousands of options!

collage graphic tees

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

I have to give a special shout-out to Out of Print Clothing (all T-shirts on the bottom row) because I love their literary shirts, socks, and baby onesies. They’re not sponsoring this post, I just think they’re cool.

A T-shirt is not a stole and it is perfectly acceptable to treat it as a blank canvas. Just remember to keep it church-appropriate, unless you enjoy unpacking sexual puns for middle-schoolers while you are struggling through a challenge course in the rain.

Flannel shirt. Because it gets cold on these things. Sometimes you’re at your own church, where you never realized that the heat automatically shuts off at 9:00 PM. Sometimes you’re in a “heated” cabin at a summer camp. Just trust me and bring your flannel. If it’s warmish you can wear it open over your rad graphic tee. Because you are cool like that.

Not all the shirts pictured below are technically flannel. If you live in a warmer climate or your retreat is in late May, options two, three, and five will keep you covered, but still nice and cool.

collage flannel shirt

one | two | three
four | five | six

Fleece jacket or puffer vest. I hate carrying a bag during these things. I always leave it in the kitchen or set it down for a rousing game of “The Great Wind Blows” and forget to pick it up again. So I always wear a sturdy layer with substantial pockets. What is in those pockets, you ask?

  • Driver’s license and phone
  • Janitor-sized bundle of keys
  • Some kid’s inhaler
  • Crumpled receipts that I plan to turn in someday
  • Grubby wad of paper that inevitably turns out to be my personal retreat medical information form (the kids’ forms are always in a neatly labeled folder)
  • Miniature Altoids tin containing one lonely Xanax, given to me by a parent with the ominous instruction, “You’ll know if he needs it”

Don’t take your chances on leaving this stuff in the kitchen. Pockets it is.

Here, we have a row of puffer vests, always my favorite; a row of utility jackets, on trend right now and a solid staple; and a row of athletic/performance-style options, including my not-so-stylish but can’t-live-without-it rain jacket, the Marmot PreCip. That thing is twelve years old and still waterproof after dozens of camping trips and hundreds of bike rides in the rain.

Why buy such a warm layer in April? I’ll tell you why: Number one, it is still cold as all get-out here in New England, and number two, a lot of this stuff is on sale right now.

collage jackets and vests

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

Skinny jeans or cords. Not flares, which will drag on the ground and get muddy. Not chinos, which make it hard to sit on the floor. And definitely not leggings. Even if you have the glutes of a professional ballet dancer, your kids do not need to see them in full view while you lead evening prayer. Instead, wear your comfiest jeans or cords and enjoy the day.

Below, in the first row, we have some standard blue jeans; in the second row, a reminder that jeans don’t have to be blue (I know white jeans are in style right now, but remember what I said about sitting on the floor); and in the third row, a few choices for my fellow corduroy enthusiasts. Take it from me: Once you start wearing burgundy cords, you will never want to stop.

collage jeans and cords

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

Comfortable shoes. Of course, your particular shoe needs will depend on the weather and terrain. Low-key overnighter in your church youth room? Wear light slip-on sneakers — you can run around in them while playing flashlight tag, then easily kick them off to watch a movie on the disgusting youth room couch. Spring adventure in the New Hampshire woods? You might need rain boots, snow boots, or hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry. I swear by my knee-high Hunter boots in most muddy situations, but I don’t like them for youth retreats because I find they make it hard to sit comfortably on the floor. Hunter really has the rain-boot thing nailed, though. I’m currently trying to decide whether I can justify the heart-stopping cost of their new waterproof loafers, featured in the bottom row below.

collage retreat shoes

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

I recognize that it is weird to want purple rubber penny loafers, but approved workers are never ashamed.

If it is Youth Retreat Season in your part of the world, my prayers are with you and all your kids. May they come to know the love of Jesus Christ, grow closer to each other and God, and not Snapchat any doubtful selfies from your church bathrooms.

Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe: Masculine Aesthetic Edition

clergy capsule wardrobe masculine

Good morning, Reverend. Perhaps you read my previous post on clergy capsule wardrobes and thought, “Sure, a pencil skirt would look adorable. On my cold dead body.”

Not everyone shares my love of teetering around in pencil skirts and heels. If you prefer a more masculine aesthetic in your style of dress, or have always quietly thought that your butt looks better in men’s pants, this post is for you.

If you are 5’11” with broad shoulders, you can probably shop for menswear wherever you want. If you aren’t, though, let’s take a look at how to help you rock that collar without looking like you borrowed all your clothes from your dad.

Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe: Masculine Edition

1. Black clergy shirt. I have two pieces of bad news for you in this department. The first is that if you ever get called “sir” when you are wearing normal layperson attire, you can expect this to happen 1,000 times more often when you are wearing a clergy shirt. One of these days I’ll write a post about why, which will feature a lot of Kate Bornstein quotes, but right now we need to focus on clothes.

The second piece of bad news is that men’s clergy shirts are ginormous. Scour the far corners of the Internet as I might, I couldn’t find an exception to this rule. The SMALLEST men’s shirt size from Almy assumes a 40-inch chest and a height of up to 6’3″. While Cokesbury is a slightly better bet, since they at least offer men’s shirts with a 14.5″ neck measurement (my collar size!), if you are short the sleeves are still going to be way too long. But never fear. You have several options:

Buy a men’s clergy shirt and tailor it down to fit you. Keep in mind that some alterations are much more costly than others. Getting the sides taken in will be cheap; getting the shoulders taken in will not.

Get a clergy shirt custom-made. Depending on your sizing needs, this may be a more cost-effective route than tailoring an off-the-rack shirt.

Buy a women’s clergy shirt that is cut like a men’s shirt. If you can tolerate wearing clothing designed for women, these are not hard to find. The long-sleeve button-down women’s clergy shirts from Almy are about as androgynous as women’s clothing gets — the website claims that they have darting, but I own several of these shirts and I am here to tell you it must be special secret darting that you can only see if you have a very specific gift of the Holy Spirit. WomenSpirit’s shirts are cut for a curvier body shape, but still fairly androgynous, if you ignore all the typo-laden web copy about the “stylish feminine shaped fit.”

Buy a black men’s dress shirt and sew on two buttons to make it work with a neckband collar. Collar This! offers a simple tutorial for this (more details here). If you are slim-built and/or wear a chest binder, try a slim fit shirt from Express or Banana Republic (both stores offer a variety of other cuts too). If you’re on a budget, pick up a shirt from Target or J. Crew Factory. If you wear this shirt a lot, you’ll want to take it to a tailor and have the original collar removed, but in a pinch you can just fold the original collar inside the shirt and hope for the best.

2. A second clergy shirt, black or in another color of your choosing. Blue and gray are solid choices that will go with everything. Remember, unless you get a lot of mail addressed to “The Right Reverend” you should stay away from purple.

3. Everyday pants. It’s hard to go wrong with khakis, so that’s what gets my vote. If you can afford two pairs of these, you can go for two different shades of khaki (a light sand color and a dark camel color, for example), or pick up a second pair in a medium gray. Old Navy, Dockers, Gap, J. Crew Factory, and Banana Republic all make durable khaki pants in a wide range of sizes. You might need to get them shortened, but hemming pants is cheap.

If you prefer the look of men’s pants but they just don’t fit you right, Dockers and Eddie Bauer both make women’s pants that are reasonably androgynous in style but cut to acccomodate a shape that is not straight-up-and-down. Results may vary — try them on and see what you think.

Unless you serve in a VERY casual setting, best to save the cords and cargo pants for your day off. I haven’t worn corduroys to work since that time when the church treasurer told me I looked like a cowboy.

4. Dress pants. So fancy! You can get away with dress pants made of cotton if you’re on a budget, although the best material for them is a light wool or wool/linen blend. No matter what the fabric, take extra good care of your dress pants. If they’re machine-washable, launder them in cold water and don’t put them in the dryer. Here are some mid-priced dress pants options from Banana Republic, J. Crew Factory and Express.

What if you already own a suit? Can you just wear the pants from that? It depends. Some suit pants look perfectly fine on their own and others will make you look like you have misplaced your suit jacket and are aimlessly wandering the halls of your church trying to find it. Ask a trusted friend if you’re not sure.

5. Sweater. Are you a giraffe? No? Then don’t wear a crew-neck sweater with a clerical collar, lest you appear to have no neck at all. You can get away with one of those baggy grandpa cardigans if you serve in a hip emergent dinner church, but most of us are best off sticking with V-necks.

Just about everyone looks good in a V-neck sweater, even while wearing a clerical collar. Always wear the collar while trying on sweaters so that you can see the overall effect. Good sources for men’s sweaters in small sizes include Express, Banana Republic and J. Crew Factory (you may be detecting a pattern here). Pick any color you like, remembering that solid colors look dressier than prints. No one will mind if you wear the same color sweater several days in a row, but there’s also no rule saying you can’t buy two.

6. Blazer. For when you need to step it up a notch. If you’re only going to own one blazer to wear with khakis and clergy shirts, I recommend a navy blue bright enough that it won’t totally clash with black. Navy will also look good with light blue shirts, gray shirts, and most colors of sweater.

It can take some doing to find a men’s blazer in a small size. J. Crew’s Ludlow blazer comes in a men’s 34 short (here in cotton or wool), plus a wool boys’ version for the shorter among us. Express makes slim-cut men’s blazers in tons of different colors and fabrics. If you like a menswear look but need a women’s cut, the J. Crew Factory women’s schoolboy blazer may get the job done.

A blazer should fit you impeccably, especially with respect to shoulders and sleeves. Take it to a tailor if you must.

7. Very comfortable everyday shoes. Oh, the shoe problem. Finding good men’s shoes is a pain in the neck if you wear anything below a size 40 (roughly a men’s size 7.5 or women’s size 9). Boys’ shoes are not a thrilling option, as they are usually not made to last like men’s shoes are. Let’s see what we can do here.

Boys’ shoes. There are a couple of companies that make quality boys’ casual shoes. The sizing usually goes up to about a boys’ size 6, or between a women’s 7 and 8. Here are some nice Sperry tan suede lace-ups, Dr. Martens black leather lace-ups, and Florsheim brown leather loafers.

Men’s shoes. Rockport makes these black or brown leather chukkas and these black, brown or tan lace-ups in a men’s size 6. Ecco is a bit pricey but known for comfort, and makes lots of shoes in men’s size 6, including this nice gray or brown lace-up.

Women’s shoes. If you just want some shoes that fit you already and men’s shoes aren’t cutting it, look for women’s chukkas, oxfords or brogues that won’t ruin your life with girly details. Born makes the most comfortable shoes on earth, and I like this tan, gray or blue lace-up. At a higher price point, Cole Haan makes these great wingtips in black or brown.

Tip: Your socks should be the same color as either your shoes or your pants. This applies unless you have a flashy sock collection, in which case, go to town. You will get only sock admiration from me.

8. Reasonably comfortable dress shoes. You thought everyday business casual shoes were a hassle? Try finding a small size in men’s dress shoes. But never fear, there are some good options out there. You might be a fan of the Cole Haan women’s wingtips mentioned above, or maybe these Ecco men’s lace-ups (which come in a million slight variations). Probably best to avoid kids’ dress shoes — you are aiming for quality here. If you invest in a good pair and treat them to some cedar shoe trees when they’re not on your feet, they will last you for years.

And, as ever, a couple of bonus suggestions in case somebody wants to buy you an ordination gift:

9. Cross pendant. Clergy of every gender presentation may choose to wear great big crosses if they wish. As mentioned before, I love this silver deacon’s cross, but other good options include this plain cross, this beveled-edge cross and this Celtic cross. And don’t forget about the bronze Tree of Life.

10. Grown-up briefcase or messenger bag. I’m not saying you have to retire your trusty nylon backpack, just that it’s nice to have another option when you want to look extra-good. This leather/canvas combo bag has a cool hipster vibe and is only $44, and this black leather Samsonite bag will last forever and will never go out of style.

If you serve in a more casual setting (oh hey college chaplains and clergy of the Pacific Northwest!), I really love Timbuk2 messenger bags, which come in all kinds of colors and sizes. You can even step up your game a bit with this Timbuk2 black leather briefcase. If you will need to haul your laptop around, make sure your bag’s dimensions are big enough to hold it.

Hey, check you out! You look awesome! Pretty soon all your male clergy colleagues will be asking you where you shop.

11 Awesome Professional Development Opportunities for Clergy

Clergy serve in one of the only licensed professions with no requirements for continuing education at all. Does that mean that your professional development should end with your M.Div? No! Going to conferences is an important way to network, skill-build, and keep your passion for ministry fresh.

Are you negotiating for a new job? Try and get your church to give you a line item for continuing ed. Five days and a thousand dollars a year is not an unreasonable ask, and if you arrange your trip so that you’re back in time for Sunday morning, your congregation will hardly know you’re gone.

But how should you spend those treasured professional development dollars? Here are a few ideas, in loose calendar order.

mental-health-first-aid-logoMental Health First Aid. If you only have $40 to spend on continuing ed this year, I can’t recommend this eight-hour course highly enough. Just like standard First Aid helps you distinguish between a minor scrape that you can bandage yourself and a serious gash that calls for a trip to the emergency room, Mental Health First Aid offers practical strategies that will help you discern (1) whether someone is experiencing an acute mental health crisis and (2) how to assist them if they are. Courses are available all over the United States and in several other countries, or you can hire a trainer to come teach a course for your church or clergy group. I’ve taken both the youth and adult modules and found them enormously helpful in pastoral ministry. Find a course here.

progressive-youth-ministry-logoProgressive Youth Ministry Conference. I wish this gathering had been around when I was a full-time youth worker, because every youth ministry conference I went to back then was straight out of the movie Saved! If you minister with youth in a progressive faith tradition, keep this on your radar. The next one is next week: March 8-10, 2017, at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC. I wish I were going just so I could hear from Lauren Winner, an author, theologian, and Episcopal priest best-known (in my circles) for writing Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.

revolutionary-love-logoRevolutionary Love Conference. For faith leaders who are serious about disrupting and dismantling racism. This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the keynoters are predominantly Christian and/or Unitarian Universalist. Speakers this year will include William Barber and Brian McLaren. The next one is April 28-30, 2017, at Middle Church in New York, NY.

open-network-logoOPEN Network Conference. Where are my progressive evangelical friends? Allow me to introduce you to the OPEN Network, which seeks to combine everything that is beautiful about evangelical Christianity with a vision for a more just and generous world. They have two conferences coming up this spring: She Is Called (for women in church leadership) from May 2-4, 2017, at West End Collegiate Church in New York, NY; and Judaism and the Spiritual Quest (a study course on Judaism for Christian leaders) from May 4-7, 2017, at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.

fte-logoFTE Christian Leadership Forum. This is one of the Forum for Theological Exploration’s many outstanding initiatives for training, supporting, and inspiring Christian faith leaders. I attended an earlier iteration of this conference as a college student, and it played a major role in confirming my call to ordained ministry. There are two tracks: One for young adults in discernment, and one for clergy and religious professionals. The next one is May 31 to June 3, 2017, at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, GA. Register by March 1 to get the early bird rate!

faith-and-disability-logoSummer Institute on Theology and Disability. Hosted by the Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities, this one looks really cool. It brings together theologians, clergy, religious educators, and other people who want to “explore the inclusive intersections of faith and disabilities.” This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the speakers are predominantly Christian and Jewish.The next one will be June 5-8, 2017, at Azusa Pacific University in sunny Azusa, CA.

ycwp-logoYoung Clergy Women Project Conference. If you’re a young clergy woman (defined as “in the ordination process before age 35, ordained before age 40”), you should definitely join the free YCW online community, and might want to consider attending their annual conference. The next one is July 10-13, 2017, in Vancouver, BC, with the theme of “Our Stories, God’s Stories.”

why-christian-logoWhy Christian? I went to this conference last year and it was a game-changer. Curated by progressive Christian superstars Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans, it’s organized as a series of talks that all attempt to answer the question: Why are you still a Christian when there are so many reasons not to be? The 2016 speakers included a whole bunch of my Christian celebrity crushes, among them Jeff Chu, Julie Rodgers, and Deborah Jian Lee. There was a strong “recovering evangelical” vibe among the attendees, but as a recovering Catholic I felt quite at home. The 2017 conference will most likely be in the early fall.

festival-of-faith-and-writing-logoFestival of Faith & Writing. Sponsored by Calvin College, this gathering takes place once every two years and brings together Christian writers from every genre: poets, bloggers, novelists, essayists, bloggers, academics, and more. Speakers at the last one included Mallory Ortberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Zadie Smith. The next one is April 12-14, 2018. Note: Calvin is the college of the Christian Reformed Church, and therefore is not exactly a utopia of LGBTQ acceptance. Read the college’s disingenuous policy statement here and decide whether this is a dealbreaker for you.

creating-change-logoCreating Change Conference. This is the annual gathering of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and their Faith Organizing track always has some exciting workshops. In 2017, they included Becoming a Change Maker Inside the Christian Church, Healing Forward: Liberating our Faith, and Digital Strategies For Faithful Action. Of course, there are dozens of other workshops to facilitate organizing, learning, and healing. The next conference is January 24-28, 2018, in Washington, DC.

courage-and-renewal-logoCenter for Courage & Renewal Retreats. The Center for Courage & Renewal runs retreats and conferences based on the work of Parker Palmer. They offer many programs for clergy and faith leaders, including Courage to Lead for Young Clergy (with “young” loosely defined as “primarily ages 40 and under”). Check out the website for a complete listing of programs. Registration and dates for the next young clergy program should be available soon.

Did I leave out your favorite ecumenical professional development experience? Are you planning to attend one of these gatherings in the year to come? Leave a note in the comments!

Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras

Welcome to the final segment of the Rock That Collar vestment guide! Today, we tackle chasubles, amices, and some other extras that you probably don’t need to buy. It’s still nice to know what they’re for.

almy-chasubleChasuble. A chasuble is essentially a great big tablecloth with a hole for the head. In Catholic and Episcopal (and sometimes Lutheran and Methodist) tradition, you wear it over your alb and stole for the consecration of the Eucharist. The moment when you put on the chasuble communicates something about your theology of worship: Do you believe that the entire worship service is consecratory, including the Liturgy of the Word? Don your chasuble before the service begins. Do you believe that only the Liturgy of the Eucharist is consecratory? Throw that bad boy over your head at the offertory. But make sure you have someone appointed to help you because it’s easy to get lost under a chasuble. You do not want your entire congregation watching as you thrash around inside it, trying to find the head hole so that you can claw your way out.

Well-made chasubles are incredible works of art that cost enough to choke a horse. Unless you are independently wealthy, you will not be buying your own anytime soon. Churches that use chasubles usually have a complete set in the various colors of the church year, ideally with stoles to match. When using a chasuble, always wear the stole that comes with it so that your parishioners aren’t distracted by your clashing shades of green.

What if your church is ready to spring for chasubles but can only afford to buy one at a time? No problem! Get them in this order:

  1. White for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals. If you’re only going to break out the fancy stuff a few times a year, these are the times to do it.
  2. Green next because it is the color you’ll use the most.
  3. Purple after that to get Lent and Advent covered.
  4. Red last. True, red is the color of Holy Week, but most services during Holy Week are non-Eucharistic anyway. The Feast of Pentecost is one lonely day per year, and if you really want a red chasuble for an ordination or installation you can borrow one from the church down the block. If your church observes a lot of martyrs’ feasts, it probably already has chasubles. Just a hunch.

Almy makes nice-looking, (comparatively) affordable polyester chasubles that do not shriek “POLYESTER!!!” If you can really afford to invest, go for some silk brocade chasubles from Holy Rood.

As with your stoles, resist the urge to treat the chasuble as a blank canvas. No matter how much you love the Virgin Mary, any design you would silk-screen onto a T-shirt does not belong on the vestments you wear in church.

almy-dalmaticDalmatic and Tunicle. Now we are in high Anglo-Catholic territory. Tunicles and dalmatics look kind of like chasubles, except they have sleeves. Dalmatics are customarily worn by deacons and tunicles by laypeople (e.g. subdeacons). The only difference between the garments is the person inside them, although some churches use a single stripe on the tunicle and a double stripe on the dalmatic.

If you’re going to outfit everybody in the chancel with their own tablecloth, keep this in mind when shopping for chasubles and make sure you can find dalmatics and tunicles to match. Almy makes a few quick-ship dalmatics that go with their most popular chasuble styles, and Gaspard will let you customize to your heart’s content. As ever, the most beautiful and bank-breaking options come from Holy Rood.

amiceAmice. An amice (pronounced AM-iss) is a fake hood that you can wear with your alb. It’s good for protecting your alb from your neck sweat, but in Protestant traditions it has become pretty rare. There are several different styles of amice, but most of them, as seen here, drape around your shoulders and have long ties that criss-cross around your front. Should you want an amice, you can pick up a cotton-poly one from Wippell or an embroidered cotton-linen one from Catholic Company.

As a general rule but especially when you are putting on an amice, try to vest in the privacy of your office, not in a public place like the sacristy. Even though the amice goes over my street clothes, I never feel more naked than when I am wearing an amice with no alb.

birettaBiretta. A biretta is a comical little hat that is even more rare than the amice. These days, you will only find birettas on Anglican priests whose faces light up when you say the words “personal ordinariate,” or Catholic priests who are nostalgic for the salad days prior to Vatican II.

As with every tradition everywhere, the Episcopal Church picks up certain regional flavors in different parts of the world. In the United States, the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are known for their Anglo-Catholic bent, which has earned this region the nickname of the Biretta Belt.

If you can’t live without a biretta or its non-tasseled cousin, the Canterbury cap, you can find one at Wippell or Almy. That’s not to exclude Domus Birettarum, which makes rad bespoke (and sometimes bejeweled) birettas for your enjoyment.

katharine-jefferts-schori-in-mitre-and-cope

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Mitre and Cope. Cool gear that you get to wear if you become a bishop. A mitre (or miter) is a large pointy hat and a cope is an enormous cape. Here’s a picture of one of my ecclesiastical heroes, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori, wearing both. She was always the target of a lot of smack-talk about her vestment choices, but I think these are gorgeous.

In this photo, Jefferts Schori is holding a ginormous stick. Why? It is a crozier (rhymes with “closure”; sometimes spelled crosier), a staff that indicates her role as a bishop of the church.

You do not need to buy these things. Yet.

Come back soon for a roundup of awesome things to do with your professional development money!