Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Church Clothes

   When I was a little boy, my grandparents spoke of “church clothes.” As it was summer time, and that meant a jacket, a buttoned up shirt and a tie, I was not thrilled.

What do we wear to church? And why? What do we wear the rest of the week? And why? In my lifetime, there’s been an increasingly casual trend in church attire. Certainly, if we think we’re impressing other people, or showing our haberdashery mettle, it’s futile in church! At the same time, sometimes we say “It’s about me being comfortable” – which again isn’t a bad thing. I do recall preaching in the poorest place in the poorest country on earth (Bayonnais, Haiti) – and seeing men, women and children with nothing wearing nice suits and dresses. Why? “It’s for God.” How do I dress for God – and not just on Sunday, but all week long? What do my clothing choices say about my faith priorities?

Somehow, a few years back, I got talked into being photographed for a slick South Park magazine for an issue they dubbed “Men in Uniform.” Why??? What do clergy wear? In some churches, it’s jeans and a t-shirt. Once upon a time, clergy wore black robes – a symbol of being educated, with a subtext that those who sit in judgment wear black robes. In my tradition, we wear white albs, with the avowed intention of being in solidarity with St. Francis of Assisi, who shed his hifalutin clothing to wear a cowl with a rope for a belt so he could be one with the poor. Albs aren’t cheap, but the symbolism can still stick. We don’t want attention drawn to the suit or dress, and the robe indicates we’re in sacred space, doing sacred things.

The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich suggested that “Jesus is our clothing, wrapping and enveloping us for love.” When you get dressed, any day, can you envision putting on Jesus? Paul said “Put on the Lord Jesus” (Romans 13:14), “Put on compassion, lowliness, patience, forgiveness” (Colossians 3:12), and “Put on the armor of God, truth, righteousness, peace, faith” (Ephesians 6). Jesus, you’ll recall, said “When you pray, go into your closet…” (Matthew 6:6). Try this, since Jesus asked us to do it, so it must be pleasing to him: when you go to your closet to get dressed, stop and pray. About whatever. Maybe even about what you’re wearing, and why, and what’s in that closet someone else might benefit from.

Worship matters – when you dress for church, and even when you get dressed in the morning.

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