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...
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Vestments lets people know right away why the person is there - to discharge an office. If you are at a big park or museum, and you see someone wearing a police uniform, you know that they aren't there to be entertained or enjoy themselves, you know that they are there to aid you should you need it. Vestments provide that same mental cue.
I've never once heard a comment along the lines "I cannot believe the pastor wore that vestment today" or "that vestment is to tight for church" while I have heard plenty of comments and made a few about the casual dress choices pastors make for Sunday morning. Vestments take some distraction from the room
Given the tendency for street clothes (e.g., albs, cassocks, and black Geneva gowns) to become sanctified and traditional dress for the clergy, I wouldn't be surprised if polo shirts and khaki pants are still worn by pastors a generation or two after the popular culture has moved on to something else.
Nonetheless, beautiful vestments and a wife who can make them are blessings to be treasured.
Pastor Peters, your comments are very interesting to me. I spent 25 years in various parts of Lutheranism, including the LCMS, ALC, and LCA. In all those years, I never once saw a pastor wear anything other than a cassock and surplice. I now live in a small city in the upper midwest, and I am quite certain that the local LCMS folks would be scandalized at the very idea of someone in a chasuble, although the pastors here do wear albs.
You mention wearing alb and chasuble for Eucharistic services. Do you also wear the maniple? Biretta?
When you put your stole on under your chasuble, do you cross it, or do you allow it to hang straight on each side?
Do you know of anywhere in the LCMS that the black gown is still worn? It seems like the guys who haven't ditched their vestments wear at least an alb and stole.
In my experience Eucharistic vestments are much more common than usually though -- not the norm certainly but not unusual. No, I do not wear a maniple but I do have a biretta, capa negra, and if the stole is long enough (a few of my older chasubles have shorter stoles) I do cross the stole... Hope that helps...
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