Monday, May 28, 2012

Tradition, Vestments and Doing Whatever the Hell You Like

This post has been a long time coming.  I have been thinking about vestments for some time now.

It’s become quite fashionable for both pastors (often younger ones but not always) and lay people to decry vestments as somehow creating a barrier to “authentic” ministry because they create an artificial divide between pastors and lay people in worship.  What is a bit amusing is they always talk like they are the first ones to think of this.  Please.  

Anti-vestment sentiment is as old as anti-catholic prejudice.  

A former congregation of mine had it in their founding minutes in the 1830s that “no clergy shall wear vestments as there is nothing in scripture about this”

As one person put it “It makes it look like you are having a different experience in worship than the rest of us” My response to that is “Um, well, yea I am having a different experience.”  I’m leading the worship.  My view is literally different.  I’m saying and singing different stuff than everyone else.   That doesn’t make me better.  It makes me, um…the pastor.  The Pastor is different.  

New Lent Stole
I never thought of vestments as elevating me or making me special, I always thought of them as making me blend in more with the worship and furnishings.  I’m now serving where two of the churches do not have air conditioning and sometimes to keep from passing out (or distract the worshipers who fear I may pass out) I have to forgo the alb and I really do feel naked and self-conscious up there without my uniform.  

When I wear my vestments it’s not really me anymore.  I’m just part of the worship.  My part is to lead.

Another observation I find interesting is that the very pastors who argue that pastors are just like everyone else and should claim no special authority are the very ones who feel free to break with tradition and pretty much do whatever the hell they want. 

I hear of clergy wearing whatever they want, doing whatever they please with creeds, liturgies, even lighting the paschal candle every Sunday of the year for no other reason that I can surmise other than they feel like it.    That seems like using your pastoral authority to me.  Not in a valid way to my mind.  


But I must confess to doing something similar when I began ministry.  When I started out buying vestments I decided I liked scapulars better than stoles.  They fit women’s bodies better than stoles.  

My justification was that they were aprons and that was just a valid symbolism of service as the stole.  

I did what I see a lot of younger pastors do now.  I broke with tradition to do what I liked and I made up my own symbolism to justify it. 

 I kind of regret that now.  I’m in the process of replacing them all now with stoles.  Which is kind of a shame because I really like a lot of the designs on them. 

 But it is fun to buy new stoles.   

I also bought a cassock.  Which is really pretty silly where I am.  I wore it with a surplice this Lent and I wear the cassock for funerals.  Being someone who spends a lot of time deciding what to wear – a cassock can be quite a relief.

I think this is what getting older does to you.  It makes you appreciate tradition more.  

It also makes you grumpy when you see others breaking with it so easily. 

 I suppose this is the way God planned it.  Younger people challenging the boundaries, older folks defending (yes I know that’s a stereotype, there are young conservatives and old iconoclasts) and somehow it is supposed to balance out. 

 I am more worried about pastors writing new creeds and new liturgies every week than what they wear.  I don't even like to worship at a strange ELCA church on vacation because I have no idea what I'm walking into.

  Anyway, I will probably wear my scapular with the cool three crosses this Sunday and my green one for a while as I still haven’t ordered a new green stole.


  1. I'm with you about the stoles. I think they symbolize the yoke that the pastor takes on. I also like it when a pastor wears the robe or whatever to cover the clothing because then he/she doesn't have to worry about the clothing and neither do we, in the pews. We've had women pastors, for the current and former pastor. They were/are too hot in summer for their robes, even though we are in N MN. Not exactly hot here, but I'm not saying that it isn't quite warm in the front of the church where there are more lights, and the windows aren't there, although we've had fans running sometimes. The former pastor still wore a stole over her clothing in summer. I hadn't heard of the scapulars before. There are lots of sources of stoles, but I'll pass on one source, as the prices seem a bit cheaper. I can't vouch of these as I haven't seen them in person, and but I've just "met" this person on line. I also make stoles, although not as a business, just for friends and relatives.

  2. Yes I recently heard of this wearing your stole over street clothes. I think that looks kind of dumb. Either you vest or you don't. No half-vesting.

  3. OH, yeah, we recently visited a church for a baby dedication, in a southern state. It was more like a theater setting. My husband's first words were: There are no symbols of the faith visible here anywhere. The first pastor who spoke wore "regular" clothing, sort of dressed down, like what we wear on a Saturday when we are working around the yard. I really didn't like that. The other pastor, who gave the sermon, was more dressed up. I also didn't like that the service was completely non-participatory. As my son said, "I don't want to go to a church that is like attending a rock concert."

  4. I appreciate what you say here, Joelle, especially the part about the pastor becoming a part of the worship furnishings.

    I'm an alb-and-stole wearing traditionalist. My clerical shirts are all black. I think the idea that vestments should be abandoned because they are off-putting is a capitulation to the individualism of our western culture and the pervasive Protestantism that rests so easily within it.

    But, having said that, I have to recognize that the freedom of the Gospel makes adiaphora of our vestments.

    Far more offensive to me is the creed du jour. I remember attending a service conducted by seminarians with a "creed" that included a statement of belief in "earthworms and butterflies." Now, I've got nothing against earthworms and butterflies. They are good parts of God's creation. They are not, however, a part of the historic faith of the Church and therefore have no place in a creed.

    The creeds are not statements of individual belief.

  5. Oh I hear ya. I think it is the height of hubris to expect other people to confess YOUR expression of faith.

  6. Love this post and LOL at: "That doesn’t make me better. It makes me, um…the pastor. The Pastor is different." More seriously, I view wearing vestments (and clerics) as providing a public witness of vocation and call. As for futzing with the creeds, do NOT get me started. I might have to go on my "consubstantial, really???" rant.