Too Clever is Dumb

When I was an Anglican curate we had a very active sewing guild at church and they asked me to design some frontals, vestments, burse and veils. I got busy doing some super creative stuff with fish and triangles and bursts of flame and green and red and orange and sequins and so forth and so on–all tied up with symbols of the Trinity and Pentecost, and the church was dedicated to St Peter so all the fishy stuff was interlaced with nets and the fisher of men and oh it was all so smart and clever…forgetting Ogden Nash’s dictum: “Here is a good rule of thumb, too clever is dumb.”

Afterward I read a book I should have read first. It was a high church manual for good vestments. I can’t remember the phrase, but it is memorable and should provide a guideline for all who are making vestments or doing any sort of church design, architecture or decoration in church. The writer said, “Good vestments should be marked out for the glory of God not by ingenious design, overly creative ideas or didactic elements that draw attention to themselves. Instead, they should complement Divine worship and be noticeable only for their fine workmanship and high quality materials.” I was suitably chastised.

One of the main problems with modern church architecture, vestments, fittings and furniture is not only that it is often too self consciously clever and smart, but too often it is badly made out of poor quality materials. It’s cheap, nasty and ephemeral.

As soon as I have them, I’ll be posting some pictures of the new vestments we’ve just had completed for St Joseph’s School.

I hope I learned my lesson. There’s not a fishnet, spingle spangle or a sequin in sight. The materials are real silk, velvet and the white celebration set has the only really big investment: some fine all seasons tapestry. They didn’t cost the earth either–one of the mothers at school who is a dedicated seamstress did all the work.

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  • Susan Bessette

    Hi Father;Other than Shawshenk Redemption, what other films do you recommend with themes such as redemption, grace, service, meaning of suffering, etc. I teach religion to high school students and they need to get into the affective domain (the religion texts just “don’t cut the mustard” This would be for a junior morality course. Thanks for your consideration. Susan

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