Sunday, June 27, 2010
Some Thoughts on Vestments...
A little background... I grew up in a black gown parish. Later I saw a surplice over the black gown (I did not know that this one was not an academic gown but a cassock). Until I went to college, I had hardly even seen anything but black academic gown or cassock/surplice. Once at college I was amazed at albs and stoles in the color of the season and chasubles to match. I came home full of enthusiasm for what I had found, and the ladies of my home church ordered the kits and stitched together stoles. I spoke to the Pastor about an alb and when I returned for the next break, lo and behold, he was wearing an alb and stole. My home parish was never on the cutting edge of this vestment thing but was open. Whenever I celebrate there, I have always worn an alb/chasuble; whenever I have led only the Service of the Word, I have worn cassock/surplice.
The one who taught me most of what I know about vestments is the sainted Dr. Edward F. Peters. I knew him as teacher, mentor, and friend. It is not that St. John's College was a hotbed of vestment experimentation but a few folks (Dr. Andrew Harnack and Dr. Peters) wore Eucharistic vestments. At the Senior College I learned even more (even a tie dyed chasuble -- well, it was the 1970s and I was living on the wild side). At Seminary I saw the culture shock as some of the profs who had come from black gown Central Illinois were suddenly introduced to the vestment collection at the Senior College. I am happy to see that things have improved greatly from those first days of its return to Ft. Wayne.
At Redeemer on Rudisill I learned even more from another teacher, mentor, and friend -- The Rev. Charles Evanson. He was there to move a parish that had been experimenting with some of the more edgy stuff to a classic style that fit its building and the Divine Service there a bit more. He did it with much grace.
I have always worn alb/chasuble for Eucharistic services and cassock/surplice for non-Eucharistic services. It is the way I was taught. I also wear a cope for festival services (again, I defer to the sewing skill of my wife or I would not have had a cope). I am not rigid about it but it is my customary practice. The choice of vestments is a matter of taste (check out http://badvestments.blogspot.com/ for those in not such good taste) but the wearing of vestments is something commended by our Lutheran history and Lutheran fathers. Why? Well, one good reason is that the wearing of vestments reminds us that the Pastor is there not as person but as office bearer to represent Christ to the gathered community through the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. These vestments tend to minimize personality in a way that street dress maximizes. What we wear as clothing choices is reflected of our personality and taste. The wearing of clergy shirts and collars and vestments is, to some measure, a means of masking the personality and taste of the Pastor and draw attention to the office and to the Christ who works through the Pastoral Office to distribute His gifts through the means of grace.
I am not legalistic in this but think it is one of those things that is good, right, and salutary -- it is the tradition of the Church but not without reason and it is a practice that we ought to consider before discarding. In nearly every congregation that has some form of blended or contemporary worship, the Pastor is generally sans vestments, sans clergy shirt and collar, and even sans suit. A tee or polo shirt and khakis have become the de facto vestments of the day -- all in the name of being casual. In some respects, there is nothing casual at all about dress that draws attention to you as a person. In some ways, the most casual way for a Pastor to appear when leading worship is in vestments -- casual in the sense that who he is as a person is masked or hidden by the vestments of the Office he bears.
Now I know that there will be those who reject my words or who think me presumptuous or even pompous about this. I am making no rules but simply suggesting that the practice of the Church is wise, salutary for the Church and the Pastor, and in keeping with what we believe, teach, and confess. And I am remembering the awesome gift given to me 30 years ago when the underwriting of my home parish and the skills of my beloved wife presented me with a set of vestments which I still wear quite happily...