Can a Robe Obscure the Gospel? Revisited

My good friend Robert posted this as a comment on my Can a Robe Obscure the Gospel post. I really enjoyed reading it, and thought it might go unnoticed there, so with his permission, I’m reposting it here:

The 2-point charge in this very rural area helped me with that decision. The smaller church encouraged me to dispense with the robe from the beginning; it only took me about 3 months to catch on and leave the robe off. The larger church told me from the first that their pastors wear robes in the pulpit, and that they would be happy to buy a robe for me if I did not own one already.

I’m one that believes in the value of clerical collars for weekday wear, although that was new in the communities I serve. The only time I wear a clerical collar in the pulpit is when I have no other clean white (I tend toward white clergy shirts more often than black) shirt in the closet or I am participating in an ecumenical service (such as Baccalaureate) – where a robe or alb in this rural area would tend to exaggerate the differences with the pastors from the other local churches.

I have introduced the white alb for celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion at the larger church (and for Baptism only at the smaller church). Both churches are happy with the alb. Oh, there are some who think it looks awfully “Catholic” – which is fine with me, being a bit of an Anglo-Catholic myself. And both churches were especially pleased with the addition of my red Order of Saint Luke scapular for the Sacrament(s).

By the way, the smaller church which likes me in a suit rather than a robe on Sunday mornings, absolutely wants me in a robe for funerals and weddings. Is that because those are “official” church services, or perhaps because they long for that connection with the universal church of the ages for those important passages in the lives of us all? If so, does that mean that Sunday morning worship is not really “official” or not really important? Has Sunday morning just become a time for some singing and a comforting lecture from a non-threatening neighbor?

Now, the black alb (yes, I know that is a contradiction in terms, at least based on the origin of the word “alb”) for Good Friday services has not proven as popular. . . yet.

Do robes and albs get in the way of the message? Yes, sometimes they do for some people. Business suits get in the way for some people sometimes, too (particularly $1,500 well-tailored suits that smack of the “prosperity gospel” or the “city slicker here to fleece the local folks”).

It may be that robes and albs are more important to me because I grew up in a church that considered such garments a mark of apostasy from the “true religion.”

Do golf shirts and khaki Dockers get in the way for some people sometimes? Yes, they do.

Where I serve right now, the only dark suit – the only suit of any color – the only coat and tie, in the church on Sunday morning would be in the pulpit. Does that make the suit, the coat and tie, an outmoded costume or uniform worn to express continuity with another place and time? Sure does – just as the robes and albs do. I just believe it is more important to show that connection with the Church over the last 17 or 18 centuries, than over the last 7 or 8 decades. For others, it is more important to reject either of those connections, each of which brings to mind as many tragic events as powerful and positive events.

For me, each situation should be considered, and we should remain flexible and open to change as time goes by even in the same church and community.

But those who reject robes and albs because they are costumes and carry some “baggage” with them, should be aware that WHATEVER we wear in the pulpit, or on the street (clergy collars originated among Anglican – not Roman, clergy so that they could stop wearing cassocks on the English streets just a couple of centuries ago or so), is a costume and sends a message to at least some observers.

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