Decently habited, or clothes make the cleric

In the ”Let old churches die and start some new ones” thread, a tangent started that discussed what clergy and others who lead worship wear. The tangent, which centered primarily on practices in the Church of Scotland and some other Reformed churches, touched on things ranging from the difference between stoles and preaching scarves, use or non-use of liturgical colors and whether traditional clothing worn by clergy (or discussions about said clothing) is off-putting to newcomers.

I thought perhaps the tangent was worth a thread of its own, and it seems to me that the discussion can be wide-ranging:
  • Does it still make sense for clergy and others leading worship to wear distinctive clothing?
  • Does it help or hinder making worship approachable for the unchurched, or like so many other things, does it depend?
  • What variations are there among and within the various Christian traditions?
  • Are traditions and norms changing, and if so how?
  • What do changes in special clothing for clergy or other worship leaders reflect about changes in worship practices generally?
These are just thoughts. Have at it if this seems worth discussing.
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Comments

  • I am not sure that anyone outside the church takes any notice of any of these points aside, perhaps, as an excuse. Churches are empty because of increasing secularism and pale efforts of churches to address the needs of the communities in which they happen to be (as a general misperception, for there are many notable and many not-known-at-all exceptions). Martyred bishops or food programme might get people's attention; whether or not the cleric is wearing a liturgical garment called a golf shirt, or one called a chasuble, will ring no chimes for the outsider sees no point in entering the building at all. Worship is such an unconventional notion for the outsider that approaching it or not is a peculiar notion-- ritual garments on the cleric is a minor issue, and perhaps will not be noticed as relevant at all.
  • What you wear is always going to say something about you. But what people "hear" may not be what you intend to say. For example, someone doing away with all clergy apparel and leading worship wearing a T shirt and shorts may THINK that they are saying "I'm ordinary like you." What people may PERCEIVE is "I don't really give a shit about what I am doing." Wearing an M&S "preaching" pullover says something about you. Wearing a suit and tie says something about you. Wearing an alb, chasuble and stole says something about you. The problem is that what it says will vary from "listener" to "listener".

    I have long had the opinion that the wearing of clergy apparel is pretty much irrelevant to non-churchgoers and occasional visitors. I have heard plenty of people claiming that dog collars or chasubles put people off, but I have yet to see any hard evidence of that. My experience is quite the contrary - those who are not used to church are often reassured by having someone up front who looks "official".
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited July 31
    I'm sure you're right. There is however the theological point that different Christian traditions regard this "specialness" in different ways. For instance (and forgive me if I get this wrong) Catholics would regard the man at the front as a "priest" whose ordination has in some way changed them and conferred on them to special power to celebrate the Mass. At the other end of the spectrum many evangelicals would say that the worship leader is simply "one of them" albeit a person whose God-given gifts have been recognised and affirmed by the congregation. I guess that folk from the Reformed tradition would sit somewhere in the middle. All this may well have implications for clothing.

    To illustrate this tangibly, let me mention two Baptist ministers of my acquaintance. One eschews any kind of formal garb - indeed on an August Bank Holiday Sunday he led worship in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. I felt he looked a bit silly but his (large and growing) church was perfectly happy. The other comes from a much more formal tradition and his church is in the city centre. during the week he wears a clerical collar so that people in the community can easily identify him; however he does not wear it when leading worship as he feels this implies a type of clericalism which he isn't happy with - his authority must come through the preached Word.
  • finelinefineline Purgatory Host
    I grew up going to Baptist, Congregational, and ‘free’ churches (the kind that take place in schools). The pastors wore normal clothes. I wasn’t even aware that some pastors wear dog collars - when I heard people talk about clergy and dog collars, I assumed they were making some joke about pastors needing to be kept on a leash!

    Having said that, I discovered there were unofficial dress code expectations at one church I went to, when we had a new pastor who came from the US. His wife was chatting to me about cultural differences and said that in the States he could dress more informally to preach, but here he was expected to wear a full suit and tie every Sunday, and people expressed strong disapproval when he’d removed his jacket because the weather was hot. I was astonished - I’d just assumed he wore his suit because he liked wearing suits. Plenty of men in the congregation also wore suits. Other churches I went to, pastors wore jeans and tee shirt. It was something I never even thought about. I thought all pastors wore everyday clothes, ranging from informal to smart.

    Then in my early 20s, I went for the first time to a high Anglican church with a friend. When the priest came in, my internal reaction was: ‘Good grief! Who is that man and why is he wearing a fancy dress costume?’ I had no frame of reference, no idea what was going on. I was used to people sometimes dressing up to act out sketches in church, but this seemed too fancy and solemn for that. I wondered briefly if he might be the mayor, as mayors wear odd clothes, When he got to the front and started the service, I realised he was seriously wearing these clothes and was a church person, and I imagined he must be a highly important church person visiting that Sunday. I spent quite a lot of the service staring at his clothes - the flowery bits and patterns intrigued me, and I was curious if he was wearing trousers underneath. (The American suit-wearing pastor had expressed strong disapproval of men who dress as women, so the idea that a male church leader would wear a dress type thing with flowers on it was quite amusing to me!)

    So, I guess it is about what you’re used to, and consequent expectations based on that. I don’t see it as there being a right or wrong, as such, but I can imagine someone used to all the priestly garb would find it as odd and disorienting going for the first time to a church where the pastor dresses in jeans and tee-shirts, as I found it going for the first time to a church where thr priest wore ‘fancy dress.’
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    I think that it is what you are used to - one of the times I went to a 'Wee Free' church I was surprised that the preacher had on summer clothing with an open necked shirt. I felt sure that such a minister would have worn a black suit and a clerical collar.
    However what intrigued me much more was that a good number of people (mainly young ones) followed the service with the aid of I-pads and smart phones. I thought that they would all have had well thumbed and gold bound Bibles for checking the biblical references made by the man in the open necked shirt ,who turned out to be the parish minister.

    I was similarly surprised when I saw people following the Mass texts with the same devices.It is quite common now to see that, especially if people are following in another language from that of the celebration.
  • But does it go back far enough (i.e. What sort of clothing might Peter have worn on the Day of Pentecost)?

    (BTW I can't do short URLs on this new vessel either. But you can at least condense them by using the TinyURL website.)
  • But does it go back far enough (i.e. What sort of clothing might Peter have worn on the Day of Pentecost)?

    (BTW I can't do short URLs on this new vessel either. But you can at least condense them by using the TinyURL website.)

    Go back far enough? What are you, some kind of restorationist?

    ;).

    I could use the TinyURL website but I can't be arsed.
  • Go back far enough? What are you, some kind of restorationist?
    I was referring merely to the illustration.

  • Yes, and I was teasing you.

    Like as if any of us can go back as far as the restoration. As far as the illustration goes, I'm not sure it's meant to convey clerical dress going back over the centuries - although there's an element of that - so much as what the illustrator thought various clerics dressed like across the more exotic branches of Christendom - Copts, Armenians and so forth ...
  • It's a bit like the liturgical equivalent of trainspotting ...
  • Doh! As far as the New Testament is what I meant to type ...
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited July 31
    I like the idea of ecclesiastical trainspotting - or perhaps like those old "I-Spy" books. You get 5 points for a common-or-garden priest, 50 for as Bishop in purple (extra 25 points each if s/he is bearing a staff and/or wearing a mitre) and some stratospheric number for espying an Archimandrite on the bus.

    Nonconformist ministers wearing particularly wide dog-collars of course incur negative points.
  • Ha ha ...

    I can't remember who said it but something from the Old Ship struck me as one for the quotes file, that church ministers only had a limited choice when it came to dress. They could either look like a 4th century court official, a 16th century academic or a 21st century prat ...
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Forthview wrote: »
    I think that it is what you are used to - one of the times I went to a 'Wee Free' church I was surprised that the preacher had on summer clothing with an open necked shirt. I felt sure that such a minister would have worn a black suit and a clerical collar.
    One trend I have observed over the last few decades in my tribe is that of ministers, on more informal (or excessively hot) occasions, dispensing with gown or alb, but still wearing a (seasonally-appropriate) stole over their civies. I haven't seen this at main Sunday services. Gowns or albs still seem to be fairly universal at those. But I see it with some regularity at more informal mid-week, early Sunday or Sunday evening, retreat or contemporary services. It is as though the minister doesn't want to look too formal or dressed up, but still wants to look distinctive and wear some marker of office. For services away from the church, I guess there's also the fact that a stole is a lot easier to carry along.

    Of course, the potential here is fairly wide appearance-wise. If the minister is wearing, say, a suit or something fairly monochromatic, it can look okay. Prints, on the other hand, can make for a pretty jarring look. (I haven't seen anyone wearing a stole with an aloha shirt. Yet.) The potential for a jarring look is intensified by the fact that custom-made stoles are very, very popular. So it is as likely, if not more likely, that the stole looks more like this than this. (Guatemalan stoles were also very popular for a time, and still are among some ministers.)

    Perhaps it is worth adding that it's fairly common at meetings of presbytery, synod or General Assembly, or during official visits by the moderator of General Assembly, for the moderator to wear a stole of office over street clothes, like this. That practice may encourage the practice in services.

    Is this trend being seen elsewhere?

  • I like the idea of ecclesiastical trainspotting - or perhaps like those old "I-Spy" books. You get 5 points for a common-or-garden priest, 50 for as Bishop in purple (extra 25 points each if s/he is bearing a staff and/or wearing a mitre) and some stratospheric number for espying an Archimandrite on the bus.

    Nonconformist ministers wearing particularly wide dog-collars of course incur negative points.

    I claim the points. In 2014 I spotted an archimandrite, klobuk and kamilavka and all, on the old number 3 bus southbound (now the 85), getting on at Preston and Somerset. The OCA Annunciation cathedral was nearby as was the Constantinopolitan anglophone church of Our Saviour, and in those days the 3 went down by the Greek-speaking parish at Prince of Wales, so perhaps he was commuting in apostolic poverty and claiming the monastic rate. I claim the points.

    Nick Tamen posts: (I haven't seen anyone wearing a stole with an aloha shirt. Yet.. I have, at a funeral, no less. It was worn by a non-denominational minister (a departed-for-marriage Latin RC priest) working for a funeral officiant business in the Ottawa area. I spoke with him afterward and learned that it had been requested by the deceased and approved of by the widow. He said that he usually wore civvies with a purple or a white stole (left over from his RC days) and used the traditional Parker Pen aspergillum to sprinkle the coffin.


  • Brilliant!
  • sabinesabine Shipmate
    I live in a Sanctuary City. Whenever there is a protest or rally, clergy will wear the brightest stoles imaginable.
  • At the very least clerical clothing (liturgical vesture, if you prefer) should be seen in the same light as a uniform for school or other body: it marks people out as belonging to a particular body.

    In the case of vestments, I was taught that priests wearing vestments meant, among other things, that when/if you raised your eyes during the mass then you saw the vestments, rather than the man, and so were help to concentrate on the rite, not the individual.

    My personal preference is for clergy to wear vestments: cassock and surplice (or cotta) at the very least. I can accept that a priest may, in extremis need to put on a stole over civvies - administering the last rites for example - but at a service I think it looks ghastly.

    IME there is a strain of reverse narcissism with some clergy - hey, look at me, I'm too godly/ high-minded/ real to bother with the uniform for the job: the clerical equivalent of the person who, on a dress-down Friday when the rest of the office shows up in short-sleeve shirt and chinos, arrives wearing Orlebar Brown board shorts, dip-dyed Givenchy T-shirt (with Ray-bans tucked into the neck) and espadrilles.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate

    In the case of vestments, I was taught that priests wearing vestments meant, among other things, that when/if you raised your eyes during the mass then you saw the vestments, rather than the man, and so were help to concentrate on the rite, not the individual.

    Much the same as judges and counsel wearing robes in court.

  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Yes, one vests to enter into the role: I am me, but in that period of donning the vestments I am reminded I am here not for myself but for the people I serve, and I represent not myself, but the tradition, the beliefs, the faith that has been passed on for generations. And yes, I have tossed a stole over civies for a mid week service, or an informal communin service on the beach with friends....... but when expecting there may be strangers, newcomers, I vest as much as weather allows to remind me and them that I am no longer just me
  • Hookers_TrickHookers_Trick Admin Emeritus
    I work in a University. At big do's like graduation all the faculty get togged up in in what is essentially the vestiges of medieval academic vesture. I've never heard anyone suggest that this odd practice is distracting or off-putting nor have I ever heard anyone suggest that this exotic clothing be dispensed with. Students, judging by the number of graduation photos I've been hauled into over the years, seem particularly to love it.
  • finelinefineline Purgatory Host
    When I graduated from my first degree, I actually found the odd clothing incredibly odd and off-putting, and didn’t go to my subsequent degree ceremonies. I wouldn’t suggest it should be dispensed of, as clearly many people love it, but I’d say just because you don’t hear people say it’s off-putting doesn’t mean no one thinks it. I wouldn’t have dreamed of expressing these thoughts to my lecturers.

    I am someone who personally would prefer priests to wear simple, everyday clothes. I wouldn’t propose dispensing of their fancy clothing though, because I know it’s important to many.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited August 3
    At the very least clerical clothing (liturgical vesture, if you prefer) should be seen in the same light as a uniform for school or other body: it marks people out as belonging to a particular body.

    Sure, so why was the parcel delivery man delivering candles to a church trying to hand the candles to me, the layperson in civvies to sign for it, rather than the vicar in full regalia standing next to me (I was leaving after mass). A singular failure of the uniform I would say.

  • Jengie Jon wrote: »
    At the very least clerical clothing (liturgical vesture, if you prefer) should be seen in the same light as a uniform for school or other body: it marks people out as belonging to a particular body.

    Sure, so why was the parcel delivery man delivering candles to a church trying to hand the candles to me, the layperson in civvies to sign for it, rather than the vicar in full regalia standing next to me (I was leaving after mass). A singular failure of the uniform I would say.

    Because he thought you were the verger/ caretaker? Who knows - maybe you just have a friendly face!
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Possibly because he knew that the clergy have no authority in relation to church property?
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    It's fascinating seeing how much this matters to people. Do carry on, I'm just observing...

  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    As a shy introvert I would feel very uncomfortable leading formal worship wearing informal clothes (even suit and tie would count as that in this context). Properly vested, I feel liberated to act in role and not to expose my personality; rather, the vestments and formality allow me to be myself to an extent, but maintain a safe boundary.

    However I don't think the choice of vesture should have anything to do with the personality of the priest/leader. If formal vesture is used it is a sign that the leader is acting in role and on behalf of the wider church. You can still do that and dress informally, but that is one less signal and symbol.
  • True ... the very lack of a "uniform" preferred by some Nonconformists is in itself making the point that they do not believe in a "priestly caste". (It may also indicate that they are trying to be "hip" or "relevant", although this may have embarrassing results).
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Whilst they may or may not believe in a 'priestly caste' many Presbyterian ministers in Scotland anyway are glad to show that they have been at university by wearing academic gown and hood.
  • True. And I think that some Nonconformists like "dressing up" because it shows they are just as much "proper ministers" as their Anglican or Catholic colleagues.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited August 3
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    At the very least clerical clothing (liturgical vesture, if you prefer) should be seen in the same light as a uniform for school or other body: it marks people out as belonging to a particular body.

    Sure, so why was the parcel delivery man delivering candles to a church trying to hand the candles to me, the layperson in civvies to sign for it, rather than the vicar in full regalia standing next to me (I was leaving after mass). A singular failure of the uniform I would say.

    Because he thought you were the verger/ caretaker? Who knows - maybe you just have a friendly face!

    FYI at that point in time the sacristan was also still in his cassock having served at mass. It is basically the difference between handing the package to an employee and to one of the milling crowd in the reception area. In work, if the receptionist (e.g. gone to the loo) is not present and I am I will happily sign for a parcel. I certainly do not want them handing the parcel to the visiting member of staff who is waiting for the receptionist to return.
  • PoppyPoppy Shipmate
    edited August 4
    I’m in a part of the C of E in the UK where the divide between how the clergy dress is very marked. Those from the HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) stable and its close relatives do not wear clerical collars. Those who are not from that stream do. There are exceptions of course but as a rule there is an over abundance of lumberjack shirts in the HTB corner at any clergy gathering whilst the rest of us are in clerical black.

    From the conversations I’ve had with my HTB colleagues I suspect there is a different ecclesiology underlying the excess of plaid. Many of the clergy I’ve spoken to do not seem to bereally committed to the idea of the local parish but are perhaps Congregationalist at heart. I heard from one funeral director that he had been told not to approach HTB churches to do funerals as it was not part of their mission. If your focus is your congregation , and many of them are gathered, then there is no point dressing in a distinctive way so that the locals can see that you are someone with the cure of souls.
  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    How clergy dress in public (street wear) and how they dress for liturgical functions, are two different but interrelated questions. It's possible to argue 'I don't wear a dog collar because there is no reason for the secular public to regard me differently from any other Christian; but when I preside at the liturgy I have a specific function for which distinctive robes can be very important.' The late Fr Kenneth Leech rarely wore a dog collar but would I am sure normally have worn full vestments to celebrate Mass.

    Obviously someone with a high view of priesthood is going to be more likely to wear distinctive clothing in both contexts, just as the HTB clergy with their plaid shirts might be expressing their particular view of ministry. But the lack or use of a clerical collar (let alone any significance in their style or colour of the shirt) has little to do with theology.
  • angloid wrote: »
    HThe lack or use of a clerical collar (let alone any significance in their style or colour of the shirt) has little to do with theology.
    I can't agree - see my post above in which I mention a Baptist minister who wears a collar during the week (to aid identification) but pointedly not on Sundays (to eliminate the suggestion that he might have any kind of priestly function).

  • One Anglican priest I know, is always to seen to be becassocked and never in a suit (with dog-collar). Does he go to bed in it!? He is now a prebendary (on equal rank to a canon) and wears the customary relevant pipings. On a hot day like today (as I write) I imagine he won't modify his attire.
  • Perhaps he wears nothing underneath.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited August 4
    A priest of that persuasion said something to me I hadn't considered. The point is precisely to identify that they aren't just a priest in church; they are just as much a priest when walking around doing things, and expect to be interrupted, to be stopped and asked for advice or otherwise engaged in converation. Thus, the church is seen as present in the world during the six days of the week when the world does not expect to be asked to engage with it. I was surprised to be told that this works at all these days, but I'm assured it does: the priest I was talking to had to allow at least double the normal amont of time to walk anywhere, because of the likelihood of being stopped during any given journey.

    ETA: I appear to have repeated BT's point, or at least given the AC version of it. Apologies.
  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    angloid wrote: »
    HThe lack or use of a clerical collar (let alone any significance in their style or colour of the shirt) has little to do with theology.
    I can't agree - see my post above in which I mention a Baptist minister who wears a collar during the week (to aid identification) but pointedly not on Sundays (to eliminate the suggestion that he might have any kind of priestly function).

    Yes I was thinking of that example! I just didn't make myself clear enough. I should have said 'not necessarily anything' instead of 'little'. Your story is a counter-example to the Ken Leech one I mentioned.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I know one cassock wearing priest. He has over the last week taken to wearing a clerical collar with dark grey shirt and trousers. I do not blame him.
  • I once heard a well known Anglican cleric and writer say that he takes his dog collar off on public transport because it acts as ' a nutter magnet.'
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Over 50 years ago all the Catholic priests in France would have worn a cassock/soutane all of the time when out and about. Then this was stopped and they started to dress like Anglo Saxon clergy of that time wearing what was called 'le clergyman'. Since then 'le clergyman' has more or less disappeared and so ,to my mind at least, has disappeared any visible presence of the Church out in the street. Most priests now simply wear ordinary clothes, sometimes with a small cross which you would have to be looking for to notice.
  • I recently met an Anglican monk who wore a kind of attenuated habit over an ordinary shirt and trousers. It looked daft as it didn't cover his normal clothes. He was simply wearing a habit as if it was some kind of oversized jacket.

    Perhaps over time it will shrink to something like a waist coat.
  • A priest of that persuasion said something to me I hadn't considered. The point is precisely to identify that they aren't just a priest in church; they are just as much a priest when walking around doing things, and expect to be interrupted, to be stopped and asked for advice or otherwise engaged in converation. Thus, the church is seen as present in the world during the six days of the week when the world does not expect to be asked to engage with it. I was surprised to be told that this works at all these days, but I'm assured it does: the priest I was talking to had to allow at least double the normal amont of time to walk anywhere, because of the likelihood of being stopped during any given journey.

    ETA: I appear to have repeated BT's point, or at least given the AC version of it. Apologies.

    Question - does this priest continue to wear their clerical garb on their day off or on their holidays? The logic of their position would suggest that they should. After all, are they not still a priest when they are paddling in the sea at Clacton?

    I do worry about such attitudes. It is a very short step from there to the position where you are NEVER off duty and never have real time for yourself or your family. On the whole, I don't think that it is a very healthy position to take. As far as I am concerned, I am always a priest, but I am not always on duty (nor should I be). But then I don't take to the whole idea of being ontologically changed on ordination - an idea I find a trifle heretical as it tends to frown upon our true humanity and deny the true humanity of Christ. But that's another discussion...
    Question - does this priest continue to wear their clerical garb on their day off or on their holidays? The logic of their position would suggest that they should. After all, are they not still a priest when they are paddling in the sea at Clacton?

    I do worry about such attitudes. It is a very short step from there to the position where you are NEVER off duty and never have real time for yourself or your family. On the whole, I don't think that it is a very healthy position to take. As far as I am concerned, I am always a priest, but I am not always on duty (nor should I be). But then I don't take to the whole idea of being ontologically changed on ordination - an idea I find a trifle heretical as it tends to frown upon our true humanity and deny the true humanity of Christ. But that's another discussion...

    The question of the priest's humanity and its demands is one that really needs a thread on its own. The only priests I've seen ignore the needs of their humanity completely have had a streak of self-contempt which was very painful to witness. So I would hope the answer to your questions is "no", becuase their humanity endures notwithstanding ordination, and its demands deserve their place in the lives of such priests.
  • WildHaggisWildHaggis Shipmate
    Gamma, love your post about nothing underneath. I have known clergy to do so in hot countries/ or during unusually hot British weather.

    I one church choir I was in, we ladies used to discuss whether in summer, we would wear just undies under our choir robes because of the heat!

    On the other hand I once saw a priest with a woolly scarf, hand mittens and thick socks and boots leading communion in a freezing church on a winter's morning. Couldn't see his dog collar from a bright Dr Who scarf.

    Wonder what preists/ministers/pastors will wear in heaven?!
  • Depends if it has air-conditioning or not ...
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    16th July is St Helier's day and on the island of Jersey there is a pilgrimage (ecumenical) to
    his hermitage out on a rock beside Elisabeth Castle. On one occasion when I happened to be there I remember being intrigued by what looked like the underwear of the principal cleric leading the procession, the dark stripes of which showed through his white alb.

    Once the religious rites were concluded the said cleric removed his alb and sported a very natty pair of black and white striped summer shorts.
  • AlbertusAlbertus Shipmate
    edited August 5
    angloid wrote: »
    ...' The late Fr Kenneth Leech rarely wore a dog collar but would I am sure normally have worn full vestments to celebrate Mass...
    He did. I remember him doing it, although when I knew him- early/mid-1990s- his everyday garb was a teeshirt and trousers. I don't think I ever saw him in a collar. He was then a 'community theologian' at St Botolph's Aldgate and an honorary curate there, but I don't think he had any 'normal' public ministry as such.
    *But* I believe he also said in his memoirs that when he was a curate in Soho in the 60s and used to spent a lot of time in night-time coffee bars, he wore his collar and found that it was an ice-breaker - 'are you really a vicar?' and the conversation could flow from there.
  • Do priests, ministers and pastors get to Heaven?

    There's a Russian saying, 'The road to Hell is paved with Bishops' skulls.'
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