Last week’s ELCE Pastors’ Study Week – although it is only three days – is a good time of fellowship, learning, and worship. We were certainly hosted brilliantly by Westfield House – and a big ‘thank you’ to them – especially for the meals. This year we studied C F W Walther’s ‘Church and Ministry’ and heard about three PhD projects – one completed and two being undertaken – engaging theology with today’s world. Very interesting. We also have chapel at Pastors’ Study Week – as you’d expect – Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers – hymn singing and listening to Scripture. The Westfield House faculty lead these but there are more services than faculty(!) so I conducted one. We don’t wear vestments for these services but rather, as Westfield House is the house of theological studies for the ELCE, academic robes – a simple black gown.
The English gowns tend to be of a heavy fabric and they have long sleeves. I wear an academic gown but it is from Australia. It was my mother’s and the black fabric is now quite thin with age but it wasn’t made for a cold climate to begin with but that’s not what makes it different. Over my years at Westfield House, I would get quizzical looks from students in the first few weeks of a year – they were usually excited to receive and be wearing their gowns to chapel – because the gown I wear has no sleeves. The pastoral students usually ask me each year about my clerical shirts and whether it is ok not to wear black shirts – as you know, I rarely wear black clerical shirts – though recently when I did, one member did mention that now I was ‘properly dressed’! 😉 I had to laugh because I’m not overly fussed about what I wear but I do know that clothing makes statements.
However on reflection, I suppose it is not wholly true that I’m not fussed about clothes because I am a supporter of uniforms – clothes that send a message about identity or function or authority – because I think that can help people – not so much the wearers but the others around the uniform to know what to expect or receive.
Last year, in my travels, I left my vestments in one church – didn’t put them in the car – so that when I arrived for the second service I was without them. Yes, I was momentarily bothered but you quickly ‘move on’ and words, water, bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit still convey Jesus who is still present among his people leading us still to give glory to the Father and we’re still encouraged to go out and serve those around us. Vestments can assist this encounter – and they can be different – but they don’t create our meeting with Jesus – Jesus does that!
Away from the Divine Service, it might be a good reminder for Christians to hear Paul in Galatians – and whenever they remember their Baptism (which is a good thing to do each day – perhaps as we wake up and get out of bed) – For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27 ESV). There you have the image of clothing – that robe over our clothes, that uniform over our name and heart – as we go out into the rest of the house and out into the world – unique individuals – we’re not Jesus-bots! – rather we’re individual followers of the One who was not fussed about clothes much especially when he took of his outer garment to wash his disciples’ feet! If the Lord of the Universe does that for us and more – think his cross and empty tomb – then following this Jesus is an adventure to have no matter what we’re wearing!