This month we asked our bloggers to share their thoughts on wearing vestments in worship. Here’s what they think.
One of my childhood memories from church is being seated in those tiny wooden Sunday school chairs in front of a table full of all sorts of pastoral “stuff.” Our associate pastor had brought in lots of things she used in her ministry so that we could see up close what her job was all about. Each of us was given a turn to select an item and have her explain what it was. I picked the bulky, black microphone, which obviously had a pretty short and not that exciting explanation. The only other item I remember was her hanger full of stoles. When someone selected them, she held them up to show us the beautiful colors and talked about what each one represented. I was enthralled, but my 5-year-old self felt sad that I hadn’t picked the stoles because they were the most interesting item!
My love for stoles has grown since that day. I love how they bind the congregation and me to the seasons of the church. I love how some remind me of the communities that gave them to me and others of the people who sewed them for me. I love that they express beauty when many of our sanctuaries are a bit lacking in aesthetics. I love that they tell stories.
Congregation members sometimes struggle to remember what to call my stoles. Scarves and shawls are the most common suggestions. But even without the language, they too know that stoles are special. Folks comment on the patchwork ones made from tiny squares of African-print fabrics. They compliment the more feminine cut green one that shimmers and glitters a little. (After all, we could use a little shimmer and glitter during “ordinary time.”) Their eyes are drawn to the fiery red one that I only get to wear once a year at Pentecost. Visually, stoles makes a robe feel less like a uniform and more like art.
I’ve worked hard to make sure that my congregation understands why I wear different colored stoles at different times of year. Our confirmation class studied how the church year has a different rhythm than the calendar year or the school year. I feel confident they’ll remember that white is worn on big, holy-days and purple marks seasons of waiting and reflection. We saw together how the color of my stoles is the same as the paraments that hang from the Bible at the front of the sanctuary and sit on the communion table. The kids now understand that stoles aren’t worn just to look pretty, but they communicate what kinds of stories about Jesus and his church we might hear each week.
Beyond my stoles, I don’t think too much about clergy vestments. I have worn a clerical collar only once in my life and that one was even borrowed from a friend. I do not own any clergy shirts. I have few rules about what to wear on Sunday, expect that I usually change from driving shoes into preaching shoes, a la Mr. Rogers and his sweaters. The only thing I am firm about is that I will put a stole on over my robe each Sunday. It’s the final thing I do before walking into the sanctuary. That piece of fabric wrapped around my shoulders is what makes me feel complete, ready to lead God’s people in worship. As I place it on my shoulders, I think about Marty from my home congregation who made the quilted blue and purple Advent stole or the Palestinian women who cross-stitched Jerusalem crosses into my Easter stole. I give thanks that each of them has been a part of my journey and has become one way I communicate the Christian story. My only other rule is a small nod to secular fashion: Never wear the same stole two weeks in a row.
EMMA NICKEL serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.