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Is it time the clergy had a ‘uniform’ revamp – the Scouts did and it worked!

Clergyman in his vestmentsI have on a number of occasions heard people comment on the clergy vestments (including Bishops and Archbishops) – things like:

  • “Whatever does he look like.”
  • “Nice frock!”
  • What has he got on his head?”
  • “I can’t imagine Jesus wearing that!”

Here’s some simple questions about the usage of clergy vestments:

  • a) Is it good for a minister to wear a ‘uniform’ that is instantly recognisable by the general public?
  • b) What is the history behind the vestments?
  • c) What did Jesus and his early followers wear?
  • d) Are the clergy vestments culturally relevant – or does it make them out of touch with Joe Public?

Let’s answer each of those questions in turn:

a) Is it good for a minister to wear a ‘uniform’ that is instantly recognisable by the general public?

I think that the general public would answer ‘yes’. (A good argument for this is put forward by Ken Collins [1] )
But the use of a clerical collar, or similar is sufficient for this purpose.
Vestments go beyond this primary goal.

b) What is the history behind the vestments?

The website ‘Academic Apparel’ gives a good potted history:

Early Christianity: … The first four centuries of Christianity did not involve a special robe, tunic, vestment or other garb for members of the clergy. … Over time clergy vestments became richer and made of costlier materials, and beauty played a larger role in church garments.”

Medieval Era: … With the rise of the surplice (white, sleeved, blouse-like shirt with lace trim) worn over a cassock (plain black, long-sleeved, ankle-length tunic) as the official clergy garment.”

Reformation: A new style of pulpit wear took hold during the Reformation era, called the Geneva style. This style, still in use today, was based on Academic Regalia for doctoral graduates. … rather than the secular fashion of the day. It is at this time that the four basic types of gowns were established which remain today: clergy robes, choir gowns, academic robes, and judicial robes.” [2]

From this we can see two important points:

  • For four centuries there wasn’t any special ‘uniform’ for members of the clergy. (They wore the same clothes as the general public).
  • A ‘uniform’ based on academic qualifications was introduced.

(Perhaps I will come back to this last point in another post.)

c) What did Jesus and his early followers wear?

Below is a quote which I personally do not agree with:

“In many places, people walked up to Jesus out of the blue, addressed Him as ‘teacher,’ which the New Testament informs us is the translation of the word ‘rabbi.’ … The only explanation is that they knew by the way He was dressed. When they addressed Him as a rabbi, He must have been dressed like a rabbi.”  by Ken Collins [1]

I think the only conclusion is that they observed Jesus teaching with authority and therefore they called Him Teacher ‘Rabbi’.
Also in b) above we have already seen that ‘for four centuries there wasn’t any special ‘uniform’ for members of the clergy.’

d) Are the clergy vestments culturally relevant?

I am of the opinion that ‘frills’ and ‘frocks’ put the clergy into a irrelevant place and out of touch with the general Public.

What do you think?

[1] Why Clergy Should Wear Clericals
[2] History of Choir Robes

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