Monday, 2 November 2015

NaBloPoMo day 2: clothes maketh the meenister

Always happy to find helpful prompts for writing, and it's NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. I'm not sure if I can commit to a post a day for this month - heck, I've already missed the beginning, but time to dust of the blog keys. Thanks to Julia at RevGals for going the extra mile and posting daily prompts...
Today's prompt:
'write about what you wear at church 
(your best clothes, your comfy clothes, robe, stole, etc.). 
What does the phrase "church clothes" look like in your world? 
Or write what you want.' 

I learnt early in my church life that while a cossack can commit a multitude of sins, 
a cassock can cover a multitude of 'em [sins, not cossacks].
Prior to beginning my first training placement, I met with my soon to be supervisor.
During the course of the meeting, he asked 'Do you have a cassock?'
I replied that I didn't, but wasn't sure that I was allowed to in my non-ordained state.
'Anyone can wear a cassock!' he said, rather animatedly.
I paused, and then timidly offered: 'I have an academic gown and hood.' 
'It will have to do.'
Don't get me wrong - I grew to love that supervisor - a wordsmith, with an eye
for liturgical detail. Every Sunday felt like being in a worship masterclass of 
Scoto-Catholicism [or high Presbyterianism] at its finest. Over the months that followed,
I reflected on the whole 'dressing up in frocks in Kirk' business, very much out of my 
comfort zone by personal choice. Several months down the line, it made sense to
get a cassock: it was a contextual choice. Just as the style of liturgy made sense
within the ancient building we were in, so too, the clothing. A time and a place
for everything, and this was the time and place for more formal wear.

Over the course of my training, I did quite different styles of placement: high, low, 
in-between, non parish chaplaincy, overseas. I wore a variety of different outfits.
Alongside, at the various training conferences and around the tables at New College, 
conversations were had amongst traineed meenisters about the wearing of items 
that would possibly mark us out as clerics, once ordained.
''I will never wear a dog collar: it's just not me!' was a common catch-cry, 
occasionally along with mocking those who wear somewhat higher liturgically 
in their approach. Those on the other side of the great costume drama could be 
equally as scathing. At times, it was really not that pretty to be a party to such discussions.
I watched the great costume wars wax and wane, and at some point in my own thinking
came to a point where I felt it was less about 'me' and more about context.
It was never one of those drawing of a line in the sand matters where I was concerned.

My personal preference is to wear a cassock - I feel less bothered about
the potential for people to be distracted by the colour of the shirt, 
or the fit of the trousers when I'm in the cassock. I also move differently and
like the way that feels. It's practical and it keeps me warm in winter. Let's not
talk about summer, however...
In the parish where I now serve as minister, I wear a cassock.
It was given to me as a gift by my lovely folk - and out of sheer respect for them,
I wear it during the morning service. 
Evening worship is a very different ball-game.
I'm often not leading it, thanks to the gifts and talents of a wee worship team.
I turn up in civvies, and quietly cheer them on from amidst the rest of the
gathered congregation. Last week I was in clergy collar and shirt - but this
because I was taking part by leading us in a simple communion service. 

If I had a theological/ liturgical nod towards the cassock, perhaps it would be
that, before worship, I'm pretty casually dressed for comfort: clerical shirt under a jumper, 
and am often in black jeans, not suit trousers, due to the vagaries of the weather 
here, but also the kind of parish it is. On those Sundays that are higher up the scale,
as this coming Sunday will be - Remembrance Sunday - I'll wear a suit. 
Before worship, I wander about the pews catching up with folk, a word here, a word there.
As time moves towards worship, I go and put on my cassock.
When I walk down the aisle to the sanctuary, it's that wee visual marker,
of time and space changing - we are entering into worship - time to settle ourselves,
time to set apart this particular space and time. Both collar and cassock are the uniform
that makes me easily identifiable.
In a couple of weeks, I'll be opening up the church to the students of one of our schools
as part of their school work. I'll pull out the cassock and bring the many stoles I've
been gifted - let them have a go at wearing the stoles too. And we'll talk about
what the church is [I'll be saying it's not a building, it's us], and what we do in the
building. The clergy outfits here, will become an educational tool.

Outwith church, context again, is the determining factor: personally, I'm happier
not being choked by a collar, however:
I'll visit the schools wearing 
dog collar and clerical shirt - but jeans and jumper. 
And the same with hospital visits or visiting older folk who may have memory issues -
though I'm particular about trying not to wear a black shirt in these latter two, due to
potential death associations! 
However, suit with clerical shirt/ collar for parish 
bereavement visits. Always. It's expected - and it's not about me.
These particular places/ contexts the collar's a helpful visual cue as well 
as being a uniform. But in some places, I will not wear a collar at all - 
in one of my villages, particularly, it makes it harder for folk to feel able
to talk comfortably - it's a barrier, so it is not worn.
In the end, I think that's probably the deciding factor regarding what to wear:
will it help/ is it a barrier? If it's the former, I wear the outfit; 
if it's the latter, then I go without.
Clerical clothes don't maketh the meenister...I'm minded of Francis of Assisi's dictum:
'preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words'. 
In this case, if the clothes help fine; 
if they hinder, then find something else to wear.
Although...I have a strong suspicion I won't be wearing these:

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