'Other' to your brother

I had a really strange experience yesterday. I met my husband's business partner and his family for the first time. They do not know me but they have heard that I work for the church and I am at an Anglican theological college.

It became apparent that there had been preparation in the car on the journey for meeting me i.e. advice to curtail bad language from the wife to the husband, emphatic instructions about behaviour for the young children.

They said that I was not what they were expecting at all. What were they expecting?

He apologised very directly to me for saying 'shit'. I just couldn't help but laugh. They didn't mind me laughing and I told them how funny it was and a little embarrassing that they felt that they had to behave in a certain way to be in my presence.

Thankfully, this didn't last for long, and they were soon laughing too. You're so ordinary they said. Em - yep! You're not what we expected. I didn't really want to know what they did expect, so I didn't ask.

Now all of this was rather amusing but in some ways it was a little tragic too. The last thing I want to do is present this idea of barrier. I'm just as broken and messed up as the next person but perfect in Christ. I'm glad that my ordinariness makes me approachable. I think that they were quite relieved in the end about how ordinary I am and they said that the church needs more ordinary people - which I think is a compliment (?).

I was looking at my vicar deliver his sermon yesterday and became conscious of his gowns and it got me thinking. I wonder sometimes if these things are helpful. There are a mixture of reactions at college. One friend I spoke to said she's going to love the 'dressing up' bit - those gowns cover a multitude of sins (weight-wise). Then we had a rather bizarre conversation about the length of our necks and how really I was rather blessed to have a long one, she will find it hard to fit a dog-collar around hers. A few weeks ago, Bryony led prayer for my fellowship group and amongst other things we prayed focusing on a dog collar because many of the friends I have will be leaving to be ordained soon and that strange little bendy plastic thing just looked so weird and a bit hopeless on the floor next to the other much more colourful and dynamic objects and maybe that's the point...

The gowns and the collar conceal the person below so you are not looking at their body shape or what clothes they wear, how high their heals are or what design they have on the pocket of their trousers. You can focus more easily on Jesus (?). Can you?

But, another thought, isn't all of this disguising the body stuff a bit gnostic?

Jesus took his clothes off on Maundy Thursday and just wore a towel. His naked humanity was on view not for the first time in 24 hours. Now, I am not advocating that I will do my preaching in the buff- could be interesting! But really, all this did just get me thinking...

How comfortable do you feel in all your paraphernalia?

Okay, I know, it's not about you! In what way have you experienced other people's reactions to your paraphernalia?

Do you think the gowns and cassocks and dog collars are helpful?

How did the whole clothing thing get started? I mean, why the white collar? What does it actually signify? Teach me a thing or two.


Peter Carrell said...

Go with the occasion, I say. Some magnificent diocesan occasions in cathedrals are totally brilliant with all the robes and what have you. Some post-modern family services are so casual that a 'smart casual' shirt/blouse might be over-dressing. Personally I am comfortable wearing a collar on days I am taking services, and comfortable not wearing a collar on other days. But I have friends who never ever wear a collar (but robe for prayer book services). Then there was the priest I met once who wanted to ditch robes in his parish near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and was rounded on by his parishioners: "Margaret Thatcher (this was in the early 90s) has taken everything away from us, we're not letting the church do that too."

Tim Goodbody said...

Hi Rachel
Keep smashing those stereotypes!
I work in 4 churches, in three of which i wear robes (aka "tat"). I can see the arguments in favour of robes, especially alb and stole, because they should make the priest anonymous - with stoles and chasubles (which i don't wear on the grounds that the ones in our churches are all skanky and damp)matching the liturgical colour of the altar cloth and so on, the priest is literally part of the furniture. This discourages egotism and also prevents the cult of personality. I wear cassock surplice and scarf for funerals, but otherwise I try to avoid wearing black.

On the other hand, in the church which (mostly) doesn't have robes, the worship is mostly modern charismatic evangelical, a context in which I find robes become a barrier to freedom of worship (for the congregation, not me)rather than an enhancement of it, so I only robe for traditional stuff like the 1662 communion or the "traditional" morning prayer when the music group have the morning off.
No one has ever complained about me wearing (or not wearing) anything, but whatever is done is done with the agreement of PCC

There is nothing in Canon law about the specific nature of clerical collars and shirts, other than that they should be appropriate. I do wear a dog collar, but rarely with a black (or even monochrome) shirt, but I suspect you probably coudl have guessed most of this about me


PamBG said...

As a Methodist minister, I'm free to wear whatever I want to wear and one develops a sense of what is appropriate when and for whom. Taking a strict 'anti-clericals' (if you see what I mean) line isn't always helpful.

At a nursing home, it's better to have those visual cues so people know you're 'a vicar' (they call me that anyway). Unchurched people in the community for whom one does funerals often want to know that you are a 'proper' vicar (again) and might even see a clerical collar and a cassock as a sign of respect for their deceased loved one. OK, there are those who might feel the opposite, but you do learn to get a sense of these things.

I grew up Lutheran and, in our church, ministers, the choir, altar servers, etc. 'just wore' some kind of 'robe'. It was expected and not particularly noticed. It would have shocked people if the minister had shown up in a business suit and tie. It would have distracted them rather than made them think he was an ordinary bloke.

David Ould said...

I hardly ever wear a dog collar, let alone robes, these days. Part of it is being "all things to all men" here in a very anti-authoritarian environment in Sydney. But part of it is also simply recognising the reason robes were worn in the first place.
The cassock was a simple riding cloak, not a fancy ecclesiastical undergarment. When the minister had arrived he would put his plain white surplice over his sweaty cassock just to make himself look like everyone else.
So if you're wearing robes to look different, you're actually wearing them for the wrong reasons.
As for dog collars, the ones we wear an a 19th Century invention - hardly something the Bible mandates.

Having said that, if I'm hospital visiting, or called to something by the police, or a similar sort of event (our local ANZAC Day memorial, for example) then on goes the collar. People need to know who you are. But day to day, I think it does more harm than good.

Rachel said...

A varied range of opinions - thank you. It would seem clerical attire is no easy thing to navigate but should be considered prayerfully and with thoughts about how it is to be received. At least, there are a range of colours these days, which I think improves on the black.

Thank you for your comments. On Maggie Dawn's blog, she investigated this topic a while ago and some of her postees suspect there is a gap in the market for female attire - but that's another post for another time, hopefully!

Anonymous said...

the gaps in the female market are beginning to be filled, there is some great women's stuff being made - proper designers not just clerical outfitters who think that making it pink and giving it some gathers is ok. I shall be shopping around and mostly sewing for myself I think! oh and I like black - I wear it a lot now always have done :-)

Rachel said...

Hi fibrefairy
God really blessed you with your gifts - I can hardly sew a label on a school uniform with any degree of success. I've seen your beautiful bag designs.

Black - yes, well you do have beautiful red hair to set it off - as for me - it just washes me out (oh dear - the vanities) ;-)

Anonymous said...

you're too kind :-D


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions