Monday, December 7, 2009

Personal Vestments or Not

Small Town and Rural (STAR) Churches are often very informal. The congregants often come to church in what some may describe as everyday clothes. Some may come in their "Sunday Best". I think that this wide range is wonderful. I would rather have people in church with whatever clothes they feel comfortable in then either no people in church or people in church with no clothes (laugh).

What about clergy in STAR churches? How well should they be dressed? I think this is a personal decision of each clergy person based on the traditions of their denomination and the expectations of their parishioners. Some denominations such as Lutherans and Catholics (which is not technically a denomination) generally wear robes, albs, and stoles every week. Other denominations such as Baptist and Assemblies of God do not generally wear those things. My problem: I'm United Methodist and we do and we don't.

Here is what I have settled upon: for most Sunday I wear slacks, a (hopefully) pressed shirt with a tie (or occasionally a quality pullover closed neck shirt), dark socks, black shoes, and a blazer (I have a couple).
Occasionally I will wear a suit. I know that clergy women have a tougher choice of clothes because congregations can be more judgmental about a woman's choice than a man's.

On special Sunday's I wear an alb with a stole and cincture appropriate to the church season. Those Sundays are Communion, Baptisms, Christmas, and Easter. I also wear them for funerals and weddings.

My choices reflect both my congregations and my respect and commitment to Christ's Bride, the church. On the non-special Sundays, I try to look good in my work for God but not too distant from the people in the pew. We remember that Jesus' and Paul's ministry were to the common people and their dress was no different then theirs. On the special Sundays, the office of the minister is important and my choice reflects the importance of those services.

There is a little controversy over the use of stoles by non-ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church. While it is not dealt with in the "Book of Disciple of the United Methodist Church" (the document that governs the church) tradition as been that only ordained clergy (Elders) are to wear stoles. (Deacons have a different type of stole to wear, one that crosses the chest and is closed at the side.) According to many Elders, non-ordained clergy, such as Local-Licensed Pastors and Associate Members, should never wear a stole. I understand the tradition, and I follow it at Ordination Services at Annual Conference, but I also know that we are appointed to serve our parishes with all the authority of an Elder including presiding over Communion and Baptism. Therefore, I feel that it is appropriate to wear one. This is a decision that each Local-Licensed Pastor and Associate Member must make for themselves.

There is a alternative for Local-Licensed Pastors and Associate Members to the stole: a scapular. If you are interested in what a scapular is or in buying it, I recommend Gail Bird Vestments where I bought the one I own, a red one I use for Ordination Service at Annual Conference.