The Collar: Reading Christian Ministry

in Fiction, Television and Film

Combining thematic analysis and close readings, The Collar is a wide-ranging study of the many ways—heroic or comic, shrewd or dastardly—Christian ministers have been represented on page and screen. Ranging across several nations, denominations, and eras, The Collar is an inquiry into pastoral passion, frustration, and fallibility. 

2014    ISBN 9781625642486

Available from Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock:

or from McNally Robinson Booksellers: TheCollar@McNally

or from CMU Bookstore:

CMU Bookstore

Canadian Mennonite University media release here: cmupressrelease

CHVN radio interview here: CHVN 

From the Foreword by William H. Willimon

"Sue Sorensen offers lively, compelling evidence that fiction about clergy is one of the best ways to discover who clergy are and what clergy are for. Even if you are uninterested in the realm of the spirit, you are sure to be engaged by her astute depiction of human, all-too-human clergy. In her fast-paced, wide-ranging sweep of novels, plays, movies, and television shows about those of us who wear the collar, fresh insights abound on nearly every page. She is judicious in her judgments, gentle in her criticism, and so very insightful. Sorensen is not only a wonderful reader of fiction but she also reveals herself to be someone who knows us clergy quite well, down deep, collar on or off."

Click here for Table of Contents and an excerpt:

The COLLAR excerpt


"Sorensen's treatment of women in this book is exemplary, in that she makes the deliberate decision not to deal with them as a separate category, but to make what is for her a theological move, working within St. Paul's declaration that in Christ there is no longer male or female. Sorensen's writing is engaging, personal, witty, and very perceptive. In my view, this book makes an important contribution in three areas; first, in literary criticism and interpretation, then in the field of theology and ministry studies, and perhaps most interestingly, the book contributes to the ongoing endeavour to think about theology and literature together." (Reviewed by Paul Doerksen in Journal of Mennonite Studies)


"The Collar's tone can only be described as warm, comfortably straddling the scholarly and conversational. Sorensen offers analyses of an astonishing number and variety of works by writers, filmmakers and actors, from George Eliot and George Herbert to Rowan Atkinson and Richard Burton. There is also a gem of a chapter entitled 'The Canadian Collar,' in which Sorensen examines portrayals of clergy life in Margaret Laurence, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, Warren Cariou and others--a study that fills a gap in Canadian literary analysis....

Particularly strong is Sorensen’s splendid commentary on George Eliot’s 'humanist religion,' her restrained critique of Jan Karon’s Mitford series and her romp through the subgenre of priest-detectives."

(Reviewed by Julienne Isaacs in The Anglican Journal): full review here


From the Introduction

"There is something extreme about the ministry that makes this profession a truly fascinating subject, one that cannot be fully fixed or delineated."

"What I hope is clear from the outset is my interest not in those books and movies that are comforting, anodyne, and 'inspirational,' but rather my trust in the sometimes difficult and prickly world of literary fiction and film."

"The enmity that our society, and its cultural artifacts, sometimes shows to the minis­try indicates that the church, in this age, is still a contender. If the church were no longer significant there would be no need for moviemakers, as an example, to pursue pastors with such mocking or condescending vigor."

Praise for THE COLLAR

A marvellous mix of scintillating literary criticism and probing theological reflection. Sue Sorensen has provided insight into why funny stories are funnier and tragic stories more tragic when a clergyman is the principal character. But she also explores the deeper question, “have these artists, as outsiders looking in, captured the mysterious soul of the one who has that special call from Christ?” 

Dale Ahlquist, President, American Chesterton Society

Like every professional, the minister inherits images he or she did not create and may or may not want to project. Some of these images persist well beyond the epochs that shaped them. A few are positive, even heroic; many are negative and demeaning. Not only for those directly involved in the vocation, but for all who try to understand what the church has been and is, it is good to sort out these sometimes “graven” images. And what better way of doing that than by considering the great stories in which clergy have some degree of prominence. 

Douglas John Hall, author of What Christianity is Not


"The cover of this book is amazing: a bald, female mannequin wearing sunglasses and a clerical collar. Ordained readers will know, as does the author who is married to a Lutheran pastor, that wearing a clerical collar changes people’s responses to you. This is a book about fictional perceptions of Christian ministers within lit­erature across several centuries and, more recently, within films and television. It is a delight to read....

"Some may find her personal evaluations off-putting. She does filter everything through her own perceptions of Christian ministry. Yet that is the point of this energetic and (for me) engaging book. This is not a work of dispassionate literary criticism but an exploration of fictional (albeit telling) depictions of ministry intended ultimately to elucidate the challenges of Christian ministry in the modern world. Sue Sorensen uses her literary interests and skills in order to help those of us who are engaged in Christian ministry. She is on our side but she also wants us to see ourselves as others have seen us. Viewed in these terms I thoroughly recommend this imaginative book." (Reviewed by Robin Gill in Theology)