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I’ve received a surprising number of links and blogs about how ministers should dress. But the ones I’ve seen have been about street-clothes/civvies. As I recall, one author was inordinately enthralled with pocket squares. Really!
I’d like more advice on what to wear while leading worship.
For the past 25 years, I’ve worn an off-white alb, a rope-like cincture and a stole the color of the church season. And I’m not likely to change, but I’m open to attempts at persuasion.
I can think of three reasons I dress as I do for worship.
- First, my seminary field-ed assignments were in Episcopal and Lutheran congregations—where I wore an alb. I’ve heard it said that we all lock into the clothes we’re wearing when we’re about 25 and we wear them for a lifetime. Maybe it’s true for worship garb too.
- Second, I specifically remember paging through a church-supply catalog after receiving my first call. Albs were about $75 and came in a few basic sizes. Geneva robes were about $350 and needed to be fitted for each person. My mind was quickly made up. I’m still wearing that same alb.
- Third, given my first two reasons, I admit that I’ve sort of backed-into this reason. Nonetheless, I’ve come to think that an alb is nicely anonymous and sets a good tone for worship. With my white alb, gray hair, white skin, standing against a white wall in a white pulpit, I joke that like the invisible man, if it weren’t for my glasses, I would be undetectable. I know that people say they want real pastors, real humans with real problems and real hearts leading worship, vulnerable ministers, self-disclosive preachers. That’s not a bad thing. But there is still a place for pointing away from self and toward Jesus.
For the past year, a group of people in my congregation have been thinking and praying about our future, our direction, our mission. Part of what we’ve done is visit a great variety of churches across the spectrum. Observing. Learning. Questioning. We’ve seen ministers dressed in all sorts of ways. While it has hardly been the focus of our discussions, there has been some talk about the way my wife and co-pastor, Sophie, and I dress for worship. The possible issues aren’t surprising. Are our albs too traditional, too churchy, off-putting, etc? I’m not closed to switching to something else, but what?
As mentioned above, economics was more decisive than high-minded thinking in choosing an alb over a robe. But allow me some after-the-fact high-mindedness. And any robe-wearers that want to explain or defend, please share. Albs feel rooted in the church, robes in academia (especially when they have hash-marks on the sleeve). Robes seem stodgy, an older generation than me—but that may be more a reflection of my childhood than anything else.
Several years ago, I wore a suit and tie for a service, mainly because the alb can be a hassle and a bit of a trip-hazard. After the service, several people complimented me on my tie. I decided then to stick with my alb. I like compliments as much as anyone else and I appreciate nice ties. But I didn’t like the idea of people scrutinizing my clothes during worship. My alb seems to keep the focus appropriately off me in worship.
Suits, ties, coats, business-casual? Too corporate? It’s easy to bash the suit as a symbol of “the man,” the “traditional” church, uppity and aging. Yet I’m often struck by all the places we still expect and are perfectly comfortable with men in ties—news and sportscasters, weddings, court and Congress, etc. Most of the time I wear a coat and tie to church on Sunday before I put on my alb. But if I were to give up my alb, I’m not inclined to lead worship in a suit. In that role, I’m not an emcee or Congressman. And I don’t want people liking last Sunday’s tie better than this week’s.
Hawaiian print shirt with cargo shorts? They’re almost de rigueur, part of the traditionally contemporary church. I don’t wear them any other time, why on Sunday? I would look like a desperate poser.
Perhaps my typical casual, work-a-day clothes? Khakis with a polo shirt or Oxford cloth (see note above about locking into to certain clothes at age 25 and not changing!) Would this put guests and the unchurched at ease? Would it make me more human and approachable? I wear them five days a week so it wouldn’t be like I was a phony. I should feel comfortable in them. I would still be concerned about which color shirt and will people analyze. But the same could be said of weekdays and that doesn’t concern me much. So maybe khakis and a shirt would just take some getting used to on my part.
Give up my alb for this? I don’t know. Can’t quite do it—yet. Input and opinions welcome