Extreme makeover: Church of England may do away with vestments

Bad idea: 

Never mind the cassocks – vicars could soon be conducting services in shell-suits, shorts or even football shirts under radical plans to overturn centuries of Church tradition.

Rules requiring the clergy to don traditional vestments are set to be swept aside as part of a ‘makeover’ designed to make services more relevant to modern congregations.

If the Church of England Synod approves the reforms, vicars could wear whatever they deem appropriate for all their services – including weddings, baptisms and funerals. 

Although most are likely to favour smart jackets, some have indicated they would adopt a ‘dress-down Sunday’ approach.

The proposals, drawn up by a London vicar, the Rev Christopher Hobbs, have already garnered the support of about a quarter of the Synod, who will debate the issue in February.

But conservatives warn that changes would dilute the identity and authority of the Church.

The Rev Andrew Atherstone, a senior theologian, welcomed the move, saying that garments such as cassocks and surplices were a relic from a ‘bygone age’ and a form of ‘power dressing’ that was a barrier to getting the Church’s message across.

And the Rev Peter Owen-Jones, a TV clergyman and self-confessed ‘old, long-haired hippy’, said he would be prepared to wear his normal garb of jeans, shirt, waistcoat, beads and battered hat for baptisms and weddings if that’s what his parishioners in East Sussex wanted. 

He added: ‘The time has come to end the blanket requirement for everyone to wear robes, but I would be very sad to see that tradition go entirely.

‘We must be sensitive to the fact that the majority of people still enjoy the fact that priests dress up in this Roman clothing, which is what it is.’

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And there’s this: 

“There are people for whom vestments are profoundly helpful and those for whom they are a real obstacle,” said Bishop Graham Cray who heads the ”Fresh Expressions” campaign.

His statement follows reports that the General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, is prepared to debate a controversial motion that would make clerical vestments optional.

In a letter to Synod members, the Rev. Christopher Hobbs, vicar of St Thomas in Oakwood, North London, wrote: “In all walks of life people are less formal. And sometimes informality is good even in a very traditional parish.”

The vicar’s letter has sparked outrage among the established church’s liberal as well as traditional leaders.

“It’s outrageous,” commented Giles Fraser, one of the Church of England’s most popular young reformers in the Daily Mail. “What will they do next? Maybe we will have Jaffa Cakes and Coca-Cola instead of bread and wine at Holy Communion. … Vestments are a very ancient part of the Church’s tradition and they bring dignity to worship.”