Forcing Priests to Wear Robes Is Right Wally

Yep, it’s “right wally,” according to one Anglican bishop. Repeatedly over the years, some Anglican leaders have attempted to remove the requirements that clergy wear vestments when performing sacred acts. Repeatedly, their attempts have been rejected.

Over the last four decades a number of attempts to amend the legislation have been thwarted.

During one debate in 1988 Bishop Pete Broadbent, a supporter of change, said: “Let members ask themselves whether there are not occasions…when they have been embarrassed by, or found evangelism hindered by, the clergyman up front in robes, looking a right wally?”

Fourteen years later an opponent of new legislation said it could lead to “shell-suits in the sanctuary”.

Mr Atherstone, who is also an assistant curate of Eynsham and Cassington, near Oxford, said robes “built barriers” between minister and worshipper.

Robes can be a form of power dressing – they can reinforce the divisions of a stratified society, where deference to rank and authority is key,” he said.

via Forcing priests to wear robes ‘absurd’, says theologian – Telegraph.

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  • Clergy garments are such a strange “time-freeze”. Other than continuing a structure and illusion of authority what is so special about the clothing styles of an earlier millennia that we need to hold them in such high reverence? If we want to find some historical holy clothes why not wear some “leather garments” that would reflect the clothes God made in the garden? Or how about the camel hide of John? The rightful response to the proposal is, of course, that would be silly. So why are the robes of a long disappeared societal structure not also thought of as equally silly?

    I have no use for anything that divides sacred from secular or that tries to mimic the authority structures of past or present societies.

    Could say more but I’ll stop here.

  • Rob Lundquist

    I’m confused, Tony. I’m an Episcopal priest, and by extension a clergy member of the Anglican Communion. And I’m not familiar with any requirement to wear robes. I wear then as a convenience when leading worship in a formal setting. But there’s absolutely nothing in the Book of Common Prayer that mandates vestments. Is this a Church of England thing? If so, why is the picture of US bishops?

    • Yeah, I’ve definitely been to more informal masses–as part of a retreat or whatnot–in which the celebrants simply wore what they were already wearing for the retreat, usually ordinary clerical dress.

  • I’m Disciple and though we have a strong anti-clerical streak, many of us do wear robes. I wear mine sometimes, but not all the time. I’m not beholden to it, but find that for some it’s helpful.

    I do know that many women clergy appreciate robes as it helps them be taken more seriously as clergy.

    Of course, there is the new clergy outfit, following Rick Warren, many have embraced the Hawaiian shirt!

  • Steve Swope

    Like Bob, I’m not beholden to my robe and stoles, either. When I was younger, I found them to be a way to be taken seriously. Now I more often find them a reminder that I am serious about what I’m doing in this moment; it’s important to me and hopefully important to those I’m leading.

    And Bob, for several years in California I wore Hawaiian shirts in the pulpit during the summer, tailored to hold a clerical “tab” collar!

  • Years ago I went to an interdenominational service of some kind in my area. At the beginning of the service all the clergy were to march down the aisle and take their seats at the front.

    I couldn’t help notice that out of twelve people in the procession only one wore trousers. Everyone else had a robe that looked very much like a dress. The fact that there was only one woman in the group made the whole thing rather amusing.

  • Angelica

    “Robes can be a form of power dressing – they can reinforce the divisions of a stratified society, where deference to rank and authority is key,” he said.

    I’m *pretty* sure that’s the point.

  • As a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada I share Rob’s observation above about the Episcopal Church not “requiring” anything and that is the same here in the Great White North. I wear and Alb and Stole simply because it is tradition and it is what folks here expect. If push comes to shove, the Stole is more important to me than the Alb, and in fact when we have a heat wave (as we do now) the alb is ditched in favour of Stole with shorts and sandals. Which brings me to another debate and that is the wearing of clergy shirts. We have a very wide difference in practice. I wear one on Sunday and for most pastoral services such as Weddings and Funerals. I have colleagues who I believe have pj’s that come with a collar. Again it is tradition and identification, but I’ve come to find that outside the institutional buildings, I get a much more interesting conversational response without the collar.