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Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live. – Gianni Versace
I’ve been planning on writing a post about ministers and clothing and figured now was a good time to get in on the conversation since Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell opened up the topic in his July 17th post entitled What Not To Wear. In his post, Steve mentions how there are many blogs/websites on how a minister ought to dress. So instead of focusing on the day-to-day wear of the pastor, he focused on the worship moment and the threads that a he chooses to use while leading worship: for 25 years it has been a white alb. Thanks for the post Steve, and thanks to those who commented.
Clothing is Art
I love clothes. Clothing can be artistic, prophetic, provocative, interesting, repulsive, becoming, and they can tell a story. I have always been aware of the artistry of clothing. One of my favorite fashion designers is the late Alexander McQueen. I don’t think the fashion industry has never seen a creative genius like him. Which makes his suicide all the more tragic to an industry that seems to be in the business of copying instead of truly making art. Last year The Met had a large and provocative exhibit of his work entitled Savage Beauty. The line to get into his exhibit was up to a three-hour wait and once inside we were packed shoulder to shoulder. His clothes captured our imagination and prophetically reflected a truth about our culture.
I sometimes think of McQueen and wonder if he were ever still alive what type of worship clothing would he create? In my imagination, McQueen and I would be having a rooftop cockatil here in the city. During our conversation he would ask me what this meeting was about and I would tell him, “Mr. McQueen, the clergy world could use your help. Could you design a line of worship clothing that is theological robust and fashionable?” And in my imagination McQueen would have been so excited by this interesting request that he would take the adventure upon himself and create a new line for People of the Cloth.
Well, obviouly this didn’t happen and it can’t happen now but I like to think that it could have been a possiblity. I would have loved to see what he could do with ministers robes and threads for worship.
My Worship Threads
If my daily wear is important then certainly my worship threads are important. Most of my church experiences growing up I had a minister that didn’t wear anything different than the rest of us. So when I entered the RCA, particularly the liturgical stream that I swim in, I found it very exciting that the ministers I knew had some fine looking threads that they got to wear in worship.
Today I wear a beautiful, black Genevan robe that I inherited from my pastor when I was under care of classis in Holland, Michigan (shouting out my love/respect to the Reverend Jill Russell at Hope Church). I zip it up feeling a cloud of saints surround me, as it was a gift Jill was given when she was first ordained. I like that I wear a used robe because in many ways it reminds me that this role of minister is not just about me but also from a long stream of people before me.
I also wear a brightly colored; rainbow stole every Sunday that was handmade in Guatemala. Besides it being a very meaningful gift from my sister it also theologically conveys our congregation’s Welcoming and Affirming posture to the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered community. One gentleman, who is gay, came up to be after worship said, “I’m so glad you wear the rainbow every week in worship.” Me too.
Just like my daily clothes convey something meaningful about what I believe; my worship clothes also convey something theologically meaningful. Ron Rienstra’s comments in Steve’s blog do an excellent job at breaking down the different thoughts of our worship clothes, check out what he said in Steve’s post.
I have many friends and some family members who are religious and are turned off by robes, stoles, and anything “extra” in worship. It is distracting for them to have their pastor wear clothing items that separate themselves so much from the people in the congregation. My friends/family will ask if it is necessary for us to wear something that looks so different than them. It conveys a hierarchy that many are uncomfortable with to the point that they can’t worship at a church that has special threads for the ministers.
Alexander McQueen is famously recorded as saying, “You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” He was a true post-modern artist. Sometimes I think of this quote in my daily church functions because it resonates with me deeply. Which leaves me wondering, are robes/stoles a rule that must be broken in order to allow the vibrancy of the tradition to reshape and live?
Like Steve, I wonder if it would be more appropriate to wear my casual work-a-day clothing. Unlike Steve, I usually don’t mind people’s comments on my daily wear; it’s an artistic expression. Yet I do grow very nervous having my clothing style focused upon more intently than the preaching or liturgical poetry. Thus, I go back to feeling most comfortable in my robe and stole.
I’m curious if readers of this blog attend churches that don’t have specific clergy clothes or are most of us in the same stream? Have any of you, minister and congregant, switched your opinions on clergy clothes and now go to a church that wears something different than where you used to go to? And I’m really curious about those of you are not clergy what you think about ministerial clothing in worship.