This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, November 21, 2008


To vest or not to vest?

I have heard the arguments on both sides.  On the one hand, vestments appear to set apart the "clergy" as a special class above the rest of the church.  They separate and distinguish one class from another.  This is pretty explicit I think in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, with hierarchical implications.  

Christian vestments are originally based simply on the garb of officials in the Roman Empire.  

On the other hand, what do I want to look like up there?  A corporate executive?  A lawyer?  That's what the alternative --- a business suit --- implies.  Why don't I just look like what I am which is a pastor, and wear the robe?  

Or I could wear something really loaded with baggage, like workers' clothes, or even, my favorite fantasy, the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner.  Wouldn't that make a statement?  

My wife, Susan, made another point the other day.  In some ways vestments tell a story and need to indicate the one wearing, keeping, telling, sharing the story.

The wearer of the vestments represents both the story and the people.  He/she is the interface between story and people.  

This relates a little to the role of vestments in ancient Israelite worship.  The High Priest wore the white robe of the angels when he was in the Holy of Holies, but when he was in the other courts he wore a robe of the same fabric and pattern as the veil: blue, purple, red, and white, representing the whole creation.  It was as if, coming out through the veil, the colors and the character of the veil glommed onto him.

(Surely this relates somehow to the "putting on Christ" Paul talks about.)

Anyway, I can go with a robe if it represents not a special, uplifted individual, but rather a role one undertakes as the story keeper/teller/interpreter.   



Doug said...

Paul: This post on vestments is a helpful conversation for me. As I begin a new church I am asking these same questions. I hear you quoting Susan about the story-- I think she means The Story--the authentic church, leadership and the gospel. But what other stories do the vestments tell? I like the orange jump suit. That would be cool! You could wear "Paul" on your jump suit and it would have overtones to the Letters of Paul. Finally, I have to admit, when I was visiting Bruce Reyes-Chow and the folks at Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, it just made sense in his context, for him to walk out to lead worship in jeans and a Cubavera shirt.

Paul Rack said...

In my last church someone tried to get me to wear a Hawaiian shirt, a la some megachurch they knew about. I didn't. That was back in my semi-Orthodox days when I wanted to wear a cassock all the time.

One idea is to literally have The Story depicted on vestments either in icon form or as embroidered calligraphy of Bible verses.

Our Presbyterian Geneva gown, btw, is basically an academic gown (as in Harry Potter...), showing our roots in the academy. How important is it to continue to make this connection I wonder?

Doug said...

I'm really thinking alot about this issue and I am surprised that Im leaning toward not wearing alb, cassock or robe, What are the symbols we need in the worship space? Do the leaders need to wear the important symbols or can all the partipants share worship together rather than setting apart the clergy and musicians? I think that we need the ancient symbols in worship but maybe the clergy don't need to dress differently than other participants.