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What’s That the Preacher’s Wearin’?

Kyle Potter offers a theology of vestments. He begins with the question of reverence: what is the appropriate level of reverence to be demonstrated in Christian worship (and how does one demonstrate it)? He writes,

To simply refuse special rituals and dress for special observances is to make a particular political statement – one that I disagree with rather vehemently. When some people complain about liturgical dress, it sounds to me like, “Why should we act like the Eucharist is some kind of special observance?”

When he gets around to the whole Catholic vs. Donatist thing, it makes me want to sit up and take notice. But fear not, Kyle is perfectly willing to concede that there are some times and settings in which vestments would be completely out of place, and yet there is no doubt about the reverential attitude of the worshipers.

Reading this, I immediately thought of this British study about doctors and patients. Patients (at least in one study) preferred their doctors to wear the traditional white lab coat. Only 12% of patients felt the lab coat interfered with doctor-patient relationships. The doctors, on the other hand, preferred scrubs or other clothes. Some?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa majority?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùfelt the coats spread infection. A slightly smaller majority admitted the coats are uncomfortable.

Here is an issue on which I think I am truly neutral. Ecclesiastically, I think vestments are unnecessary. Anthropologically, I think vestments can be a powerful symbol of transcendence, and that’s not a bad thing. I wouldn’t freak out if my pastor started wearing vestments, but I’m not distracted or offended that he doesn’t. There is plenty of “reverence” to go around in my church on an average Sunday.

I would, however, make an appeal that, should vestments become the order of the day, we go with real, live clerical vestments rather than just dressing up in John Calvin’s 16th-century lawyer suit?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùaka the Geneva gown! A simple alb and stole tells me I’m at a Christian worship service. A Geneva gown makes me wonder who’s graduating.

technorati tags: geneva gown, vestments


  1. Craig says:

    I used to get worked up about this stuff. It took awhile to overcome my Lutheran prejudices and accept the fact that you don’t need vestments to conduct a worship service. Even Baptists have traditionally conceded the point that dressing up helps to create a more reverent service. Meeting in nicer places than we see in our daily lives dressed in nicer clothes than we wear in our daily lives works on us to take notice and place ourselves in the proper frame of mind and heart.


  2. Kyle says:

    Yah, and when even the Baptists catch onto a good thing… :0)


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