Chaplain's Collar

Chaplain's Collar

When women were first admitted to the College as undergraduates, it was still 16 years before they could be ordained as priests in the Church of England. When I matriculated (at Merton) in 2001, female chaplains were still rare and controversial. Now, about 50% of college chaplains are female – a higher proportion than for parish priests.
In my secular life, I never felt my gender was an issue. Then I went to train for ordination. The college where I trained, in Yorkshire, had been admitting female candidates for only seven years, and I was often the only woman in my class. People still remark – usually favourably – on the fact that I’m female, and many people have misconceptions, for instance that I must be celibate (which would come as quite a surprise to my husband!). However, I see it as an opportunity. Once people realise their preconception of the Church has been wrong on one count, it makes them more open-minded to learning more.
The item I’ve chosen is a clerical crop-top, a female equivalent to the traditional ‘stock’ or shirt-front for male clergy. I wear it under a black dress when the weather is too hot for a shirt. It means I can wear an off-the-peg dress rather than forking out for tailored clergy wear - and I’m told it’s essential for pregnant priests, as maternity clerical still isn’t a thing!
Even a few years ago when I was ordained, clerical outfitters stocked few options for women, and the choices available often made assumptions about a female priest’s likely age, size, and Church tradition. The church may now accept that women can be priests, but when it comes to the shape of clerical clothes, it often forgets priests can be women! In the last few years, several specialist outlets have entered the market, catering specifically to clergywomen, and the traditional clerical outfitters are starting to catch up. But I also value the gender-neutrality of my cassock, which frees me from the expectations and judgments that can burden women’s clothing choices.

Revd Katherine Price