Putting on the beauty of holiness

The Telegraph's picture of the Rev Jepson caught my attention. This haute couture cleric is the chaplain for the London college of fashion and so perhaps adapting the usual clergy attire helps her to communicate the gospel to those who have an eye for all things exquisite.

Tomorrow I take shoes and various pieces of clothes to college to arrange with clergy shirts I have had made to measure. Some are nipped in at the waist, others have capped sleeves. Some are patterned. I have had a dress made up for my ordination for underneath my cassock. A friend and I will model clergy clothes for the international Christian Resources exhibition next week in Peterborough and so the tailor coming to college want to make sure that our outfits are in good order and we can walk nicely in the shoes we have selected. We will also model albs and cassocks, bib stocks and the new clergy crop top, which can be worn underneath your every-day clothes.

The male vicar of my sending church performed a full immersion baptism of two new members of our congregation sporting a rather tasteful pink/lilac shirt this evening.

So does any of this matter? Should it matter? And if it does, why does it matter?

If embodied ministry is about taking the whole of me into ministry, then that bit of me that cares about clothes, can that come too?

It is so tempting to value more our thoughts and all that 'soul-stuff' over anything associated with surface and body. Does a wholistic theology help us to avoid body/soul dichotomies?

How do I feel about the fact that I present myself 'made-up' and suitably high heeled to the world? Should I be 'free' of make-up and heels? I have been challenged to give these things up to see what it would mean to me. It was not particularly formative. I just felt like somebody else, so I am now back to being me again. Do I really honour God more with a naked face? I once heard a lecture about how 'Praising God in the beauty of holiness' is about putting on your finest garments to praise the Lord. Is this just want I want to hear? So am I presenting the best version of myself to a world in which I meet God in those people he has formed in his image? Is that my motivation, or am I just stuck in a habit about what I should look like? Do I care about what I look like for the wrong or the right reasons?

Is a biblical view of the body different to the 'church's' view of the body? 
How do Christians feel about their bodies? 
Do Christians care about vicars who care about what they look like? Is it a relief? Should it be that by our clothes we reflect that we are not of the world? Is it considered vanity? Is it none of the above?
Does this topic raise different questions for the genders? 
For men there is a lack of vocabulary about body issues, a lack of creative attention to the body. How do men come to feel about their bodies in the world and within faith? It is not addressed by Christian literature to the extent that it is for women. How do male vicars make decisions about their clothes?

If matter matters to God, do our clothes matter too?

It is certainly more platonic than biblical to try to escape the body. By the very nature of the incarnation, we can not escape the fact that the body is good. 
Rubem Alves explains how maybe we have constructed a theology of finding God beyond, at the end of the body, when in actual fact God becomes in the body, he takes on flesh. We need to redeem the misapplications of a misunderstood 'sarx' theology. Our salvation is bodily. God became incarnate. There is no dichotomy. There is no flesh/body split.

...so with a right theology, a sense of humility and a lot of fun perhaps I will continue to enjoy selecting sleeve lengths and prints and feeling it such a massive privilege that some clever seamstress would make a shirt just for me that nips in ever so nicely at the waist!

Perhaps you will convince me otherwise. 


Anonymous said...

I agree with lots of this ( and I'm a make up and heels, or make up & DMs girl too and no one is going to tell me I can't be..) I celebrate being a woman, being human, being me! and I think that is important. I'm totally with you on the holistic theology and celebrating our humanity!

I think well fitting well made clericals are important - for ones own comfort and ease in " role" and just to portray a professional kind of image,

My shirts though are going to be black, and black.. variety of cuts, fabrics and style, but black. Now in someways this is just me being me ( I wear probably 98% black) and in others its part of the way I think about how clothing shouldn't distract or detract. I am slightly conflicted in this as I'm not sure what I'd think if I commonly wore bright pink or floral patterns. I think tho there is a lot of bad taste paraded in the name of clergy "exhibiting their personality" stuff that no self respecting lay person would wear...!!

Cassocks and albs etc, there's no discussion on, their purpose IMO is to neutralize the appearance, so you don't distract or detract from worship. Here again professional well kept, well fitting appearance is good, flash " look at me" is not. Badly fitted clericals detract as much as a short skirt, to dress well is not vanity in this case at all I'd venture..

As for men...well don;t they make their clothing choices on the same basis as women, what fits well, makes them feel good, suits their pocket and their personality...?
I don't think men as a gender are less interested in how they look than women, I think there are those of both genders who care too much, and those who care too little -its personality, not chromosomes! I've got some very well dressed male friends who will be well dressed male clergy.

I have more questions than answers said...

I think that what you talk of is a male as well as a female issue. In many instances, a priest might only meet someone once and they portray what that person sees as ‘the church’ and in a few seconds an impression has been made (rightly or wrongly). I consider what I wear that depends on the situation and that won’t change when I am ordained. My clericals will be black, but what I wear with them will depend on the situation; whether it’s a suit, jeans, jacket etc etc.....

It is essential that the clergy take pride in their appearance and are aware of the environment in which they minister. It is too easy to cause offence but just as easy to stop and think. However, this needn’t detract from people’s personalities shining through in their appearance.


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