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Why do you all wear it?

This month we asked our bloggers to share their thoughts on wearing vestments in worship. Here’s what they think.

So there I was, standing next to the grave, robed in all my clergy vestments, and a woman standing in the back row raised her hand.

I had gotten to the graveside in plenty of time to greet the family.  I had remembered the robe, the stole, the tie, the Book of Common Worship.  I was ready.  I had made it.  I was not late.

It had been a crazy start to the day.  The emails were plentiful, phone calls kept coming and the notes placed in my box were all waiting for some sort of urgent response.  Not that this was anything out of the usual, but with the graveside and the memorial service later that day, I was feeling it more than other days.

I was racing through it all.  I was hurrying to get everything together.  By the time I arrived at the cemetery, I was just glad I had not forgotten anything … and I was glad I made it.  I was not late.

The family slowly filtered into their seats under the canopy.  They rearranged to make sure they were sitting in the appropriate places by the appropriate people.  There were not enough chairs, so some of the friends had to stand in the back.  They had to stand behind them in rows.

As they were settling in, they realized that they were missing two people.  Someone called.  (What did we ever do before cell phones?)  They were running late.  They would be there in a few minutes.  We decided to wait.

I remember it was raining – not a crazy downpour kind of a rain, but a peaceful cleansing kind of a rain.  The kind of a rain that makes you appreciate the canopy over your head and the green grass under your feet.  It was very calming.  It was very quiet.

So there I was, standing next to the grave, robed in all my clergy vestments and a woman standing in the back row raised her hand.

I waited a minute before I did anything to see if she was just confused … but she stared straight at me.  So I finally acknowledged her and she proceeded with:

“I’m Episcopal.  And my priest wears different looking stuff than that.  Like the robe and the colors and the thing around your neck … it all looks different.  What does it all mean and why do you all wear it?”

So there I was, standing next to the grave, robed in all my clergy vestments and a woman standing in the back row raised her hand and asked me about them … and I had absolutely no idea what to say!!

I am totally fine with pastors wearing vestments or not wearing vestments.  Sometimes I wear them.  Sometimes I do not.  I think it is a personal choice and sometimes it can be a pastoral choice.

But if you wear vestments as a sign of your office and role, please be better informed than I was!  Please know what you’re wearing and why you wear them. Since that day, I have learned about our traditional vestments so that I might be better prepared in case I get asked that question again.  So now whenever I suit-up, I am ready to discuss:

Geneva Gown. This robe has traditionally been used a sign of ordination within the Christian church.  It grew in popularity during the Protestant Reformation and in many ways is meant to mimic both academic and judicial attire, lending credence to the scholarly and official role we play as pastors.

Stole. This has also historically been used as a sign of church leadership and of the yoke of Christ that is taken on at ordination.  If you have fringe on your stole, it is probably because of Numbers 15:38-39.  The symbols on our stoles are often very rich and each tell their own story.  Plus, many stoles are often given as gifts to pastors – so now I also like to share with people where my stoles come from and talk about our connectional nature.

Colors. Depending on the season and the occasion, I wear different color stoles.  I wear GREEN (ordinary time) most often, signifying growth and newness.  I wear WHITE during celebrations like Christmas, Easter and anything where we celebrate life and being together (funerals and wedding).  I wear PURPLE, the color associated with royalty and penitence, for Lent.  And I now wear BLUE for Advent, since it is associated with the night sky as we await the coming of the Dayspring.

brian coulterBRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk and currently resides in Aiken, South Carolina.