Friday, 3 September 2010

a robe by any other name...

is still a robe.  
The subject of clerical 'fashion' was one of the many tailends of conversations I wandered into over the course of the recent candidates' conference in St Andrews [apparently, according to Dad, you can play golf there, too, although not necessarily in clerical garb].  As it has cropped up occasionally in my thoughts as well as in other conversations, I thought it was time to have a stab at ... oh dearie me, no: poor phrasing with connotations of 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest?!' ...
[starts again on the 'once more with feeling' principle]
Er, so, thought I'd do that which is required of student ministers these days and 'reflect' on the apparently thorny question of 'to robe, or not to robe?'  
Plus, it gives me an opportunity to highlight a most fabby blog featuring a wondrous collection of pretty piccies which illustrate just how weird, wild and downright wacky some robes can be when good intentions or ample egos make the business of conducting worship decently and in good order that much harder...

'go-faster stripes'?

'fresh expressions' of church took on a whole new meaning, as Rev Lil Surfergirl suddenly emerged through the improvised communion table, dramatically clutching the body of Christ
So, some thoughts -
Context. is. important.  

Robing and worship:
No point when on placement being all robed up when your supervisor is not.  And when doing pulpit supply, as a visitor, aim to fit in as much as possible with the practice of the minister there - a combination of continuity of practice but also courtesy.
On having become a parish minister... over a period of time, you can quietly change the practice if you have a particular theological veiwpoint re. the robes in/ not in worship debate but sensitivity towards the congregation is probably a helpful and kind thing too.  But also, church architecture can play a part in what you might or might not wear.  What is right or appropriate?
Given that there are times when we conduct worship within the civic context, such as Remembrance Sunday, out of sensitivity to those folk who expect you to look like a minister at such an event... yup, bite yer tongue and just do it, I think.

Robes for sacraments - communion and baptisms - well, I would, but that's just me.  There's an aspect of the robing debate that sometimes gets overlooked: putting on 'the uniform' is, I think, a very visual way of noting sacred time and space.  So pre-service wandering about chatting to folks in 'civvies'... and then going off and robing and coming back to conduct worship - useful visual clues/ symbolism that say more than words 'come, now is the time to worship'.
And a reminder to me, at least, that when I put on the 'uniform' this is not about me, it's about 'us':  
1/ God at the relational centre and the reason why 'we' are all here
2/ministry as a relational part of that: as a partnership and whatever is done is done [hopefully] in His name, through the power of His Spirit
3/ relational as a way of going this is indeed the body of Christ here represented in this neck of the as the community of God's people.

Robes on 'ordinary' Sundays - well, again, my own thought is at least clericals/collar - visitors at church can work out who the minister is more quickly!!!! ;)

Outwith worship contexts - sometimes it's useful to have a uniform:
because there are times when, again, it's just sheer respect/ courtesy to wear it.
I think funerals, especially parish ones in which any link with church may be rather tenuous, is where it helps to put on the 'uniform' -
a/ because folk expect you to 'look like a minister' and for easy identification... as in 'who is this stranger chapping on the door, ahh, the minister'. 
b/ I wonder if by dint of wearing the uniform, there is something about conveying of authority [yes, of course, it is God who has the authority] that gives permission to say the tough things, or even gives people a reassurance that you know what you're doing and Great Aunty Ermintrude is in safe hands, as are they?
c/ You are representing the Church as well, I think, as the great communion of saints [and granted, this might not quite be the language folks you're visiting might use] and it is just respectful to oblige when people are in grief contexts
And then there are hospital visits - if needing to be done outside of visiting hours, then it's like a badge that allows access... [just don't go too early - during rounds, during meals - when you'll just get in the way of hospital staff.]
Visiting - being mindful of who we are visiting: for those who are in various stages of dementia, a collar at least will serve to show what you are/ who you represent, and maybe remind some folks of who you are as well.  They may not get your name, but they might at least be provided with a clue by what you're wearing.  It also helps to make folks a little less anxious - so pastorally perhaps reassuring?

Some non-phrases re. non- robing:
'but I don't feel comfortable'
or 'I don't feel like it'
or 'it's not me' ... 
nope, not good enough.  It's a little too 'all about me', I'm afraid.  Find some theological arguments.  There are good ones either side of the discussion; think about why you're going to use/ not use robes and how this might express your particular theology of ministry - not whether it just feels icky.  Hmmm, that sounded a wee bit stern, but it's less about us and more about the folks we're called to serve, innit?  And that certainly crosses both sides of the debate.   

That priestly role 'thang': 
robes can serve to be a reminder of being set apart as well as being a part, perhaps... we have been called as a part of the body of Christ, to be set apart to minister to that body...?
There is the issue of pride - but that argument cuts both ways I think:
it can help stop the pride thang - you cover yourself/ are trying to be less a distraction with those marvellous 'funny ties' or lovely blouses - and are hopefully more a pointer to God.  Yeah, conversely I'm sure some folk love wearing their stuff - robes or ties to say 'look at me'!!!

But I do wonder about the 'reluctance' I sometimes see with regard to wearing the uniform: it makes me wonder if this may occasionally portray an inner wrestling about what it is to take up the call and be a minister and thus,the physical wearing of the uniform is, in that manner, uncomfortable? Not always, but that, too, makes me curious - I just like the way we all tick, really!!

In the end, whichever side of the discussion you are on a couple of useful rules of thumb:
i/It ain't a doctrinal issue - I suspect getting to heaven is not dependant upon the wearing or non-wearing of clerical outfits.

ii/If your clergy get-up gets in the way of ministry, ditch it.  If your non-clergy get-up impedes... get on those clericals. 

And just as a post-script, if you haven't checked her out, go see the wonderful Peacebang's blog over at Beauty tips for Ministers - she is the epitome of style and taste :D
 Okay, maybe just a little too 'tacky'?


Mrs Gerbil said...

I'd definately agree with the uniform thing. As you say, it helps visitors to a church see who the minister is and when undertaking parocial visiting.

On a very practical level, robes are a good way of keeping warm in a cold's all about layering!

On my placement, the minister there always wore her collar when doing ministerial things - vestry, visits, preaching. She also wore it when others were leading worship, so visitors could identify her.

On my home church, one of my ministers wears a robe, collar and preaching scarf. If it's too wartm, the robe gets ditched. Last winter, that didn't happen too often!!! Initially, my other minister didn't wear a collar - just a large wooden cross. This with dark jeans and a tweed jacket - it's very much his style, but doesn't detract from what he's doing - leading worship. The session "encouraged" him to wear a collar and he has done so. Nothing else of his attire has changed. Wearing the collar does show visitors he is the minister rather than just some dude taking the service.

That said, both my ministers will wear robes when performing the sacraments, on rememberance Sunday and at funerals. They do that to show respect for the occasion and so the congregation see God in the worship, if that makes sence.

As I've said somewhere before, I am a jeans and a top type of gal, but when leading worship I wear a suit jacket in my home churches and will wear a suit of doing pulpit supply. I don't own a set of robes and don't want people to think I am the minister - not yet, anyway! It's respect for what I'm doing and for the church. It gives a sence of gravitas and authority.

Having said that, I don't recall reading of Jesus getting changed from his ordinary clothes to teach the people...

Nik said...

Yes, it was a good winter for wearing robes, lol!!! re. 'not wanting people thinking you're the minister [yet]' -well, what we would omit would be the wearing of a collar/ preaching bands/ stole as that ain't 'legal'. At my first placement which was very high liturgically - and in the setting entirely appropriate - my 'gaffer' said rule of thumb is that anyone can wear a cassock; added to which, I was a graduate so entitled to wear my academic robes. I do have robes, but was gifted them as 'pre-loved' no longer used clobber... and very early on in my 1st placement, and after some thought about matters on enquiry placement I did get a cassock made and did it probably due to some gender considerations. Next time we meet up I'll give you the low-down on that, but not here in public forum!!!
Yup, you're absolutely right about Jesus and what he wore btw :)
It could be argued from historical/ theological Reformed context that this is exactly what the Reformers were trying to get at when they were wearing their academic kit: it was ordinary clothing for them, unlike the elaborate stuff being worn by the Catholic church... in effect, the Reformers 'were' wearing their civvies - and down through time, although the practice of the kirk didn't change re. the get-up, fashions changed outwith the kirk. Hehehehe, I wonder if it's a glorious example of 'do something once and it's different; do it twice and it's tradition' :D

Mrs Gerbil said...

One advantage with a cassock is you can wear almost anything under it. Spot knows a biker vicar who wears his leathers under his cassock and just makes sure his boots are polished! Now if I started riding again...I may just consider one! At the moment, even robes (or a batman suit as my family like to call them...long story) would feel too much for me. I think I'll stick to the suit. Smart but not sweaty!!!

Nik said...

hehehe, yup, a cassock hides a multitude of 'sins' - I grew up in a strong beach culture. Our minister was a surfer dude: boards strapped on top of the car, boardies and surfie singlet top under the cassock :D

Jonathan Fleming said...

Thanks for this Nikki! I have since had the answer to the question I pondered at conference... I am to wear robes and, if I owned one, a cassock, but I am not to go and buy one 'just for them'!
Hope all is well in Edinburgerdom and hopefully catch up soon!

Nodrog said...

Surely the late great Rikki Fulton is assisting at the beach communion... - did Rev I M Jolly undergo a conversion to surfianity?

Nik said...

*sighs, looks doleful*
...our subject today is *sigh* joy...

Julie said...

a little word from one who is now 'legal' during my candidacy we too had this heated debate - to robe or not. And how much, and how often, etc etc.
Considering there is no official uniform - just a variation on cassock, geneva gown, hood, scarf, collar (slip-in or full-throttle) bands - it really is something of a minefield.
And if you are a woman actually getting stuff that fits and is not just a man's version with a couple darts.... tch!!! (J & M Sewing- totally fab)

anyhoo- back to where I began
I was totally resistent to any sort of clerical garb; and all through my cadidacy was expected simply to look smart - I was a student and not a minister, very straightforward.
On beginning probabtion had similar conversation with supervisor, who suggested now was the time to start wearing a collar for worship and visiting.
On interview to first charge - the question about dress was asked... I explained my reluctance, but actually conceded there were times it would be appropriate - and had a beautiful cassock made with coordinating scarf for communion - it is very dark purple - came to my first wedding and decided would feel appropriate to wear for that so got lovely wedding scarf made too....
Now after five years, I am much more comfortable than I used to be and have had gown made to match cassock which now gets worn over suit for non church weddings and for morning worship when not wearing cassock.
I have evolved from never, to just for communion & weddings, to most Sundays...
One of my biggest reasons for not wearing was that it made me stand out - and people would talk about what I wore and not listen to/ respond to worship.
What I have learned is that once they are used to you/ yoyr dress/ your style etc... then things settle down.
Is being comfortable in yourself important - actually yes, because you need to be if you are going to really communicate God to others.
But comfort comes with experience; and God equips us - whatever we wear - He is the one we give the glory to, and we need always to remember who it is we serve.

Nik said...

Hi Julie, thanks for dropping in :)
[hehehehe, 'full throttle', like it!]

My own personal preference now, as opposed to when I wasn't fussed either way, is to wear my cassock - although it is different to what the folks in the pews are wearing so a 'stand out' piece of clothing in that sense... in another sense, I've found I now don't get comments about what I'm wearing re. 'nice blouse', 'oh, not sure if that colour suits you', 'I was looking at what you were wearing today and was thinking my daughter has one of those - did you get that at...?' etc. And here's where part of the gender difference does come in: I suspect women get more comments on what they are wearing and how it looked than chaps [unless the tie is really marvellous or hideous]. For me, the wearing of a cassock helped neutralise that - and hopefully got the focus more properly back to God and worship.
But again, a part of why I wrote the post was down to some of these 'clergy-gear wars' I've overheard over the last several years. Some strong opinions on both sides of the fence that can be almost feel like bullying, but also almost a non-thinking approach in the midst of that. For my part, as long as folks have thought through why - and there are theological reasons for either approach as well as context - then it's fine. It's just the unthinking 'this is the only way, just 'cos it is' that has driven me nuts at times, lol!!!
As people who are supposed to be reflective practitioners, we are er, supposed to at least reflect on why it is we do the things we do....