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Collaring clergy

vestmentsThe Church of England is debating its rules on clergy vesture. Much discussion has followed from the Mail Online article.

Note the motivation:
“Rules requiring the clergy to don traditional vestments are set to be swept aside as part of a ‘makeover’ designed to make services more relevant to modern congregations.”

Read my lips:
Absolute balderdash!

Here’s some things that do make services “more relevant”:
&#8226 integrity &#x2714
&#8226 intelligent spirituality &#x2714
&#8226 interest and compassion &#x2714
&#8226 a sense of awe, wonder, and mystery &#x2714
&#8226 being welcome, included, valued, respected… &#x2714

But if you think that clergy wearing street clothes is going to renew the church and bring droves of young people into your building, then you are the sort of person who thinks that changing the wall paper in your living room is going to put out the fire that is burning down your house…

Our contemporary culture understands uniform perfectly well. Individuals in uniform are not functioning essentially in their own person but representative and with given authority.

The purpose of this post is not to educate about the different signs that each vestment indicates, suffice to say that what clergy wear is not intended to draw attention to the individual wearing them. The obsession with using vesture to underscore status, or signal churchmanship, or highlight the particular individuality of the wearer cuts across the value of the sign. Allegorisation of vesture is tiresome – both when it is used to explain a particular article of clothing, but more so when it is used to refuse to wear such clothing.

In the discussions around the CofE debate, clergy said they would do everything as a priest without wearing so much as a clerical collar – except for a funeral. There they would don a collar. It is beyond me, there being nothing sacramental in the CofE understanding of funeral and lay people being able to lead funerals no problem, why have the funeral as the last remaining place to wear a clerical sign?

It is of interest that the very church communities that would balk at vesting because they seek “to make services more relevant to modern congregations” are regularly the very ones that attack contemporary scientific understanding of the origin of the universe and of human life, lambaste contemporary inclusivity in sexual mores, and hold to every story of the miraculous – except of course in the God-given sacraments of baptism and eucharist (there it’s “merely a symbol”)!

Fascinatingly, in the Sydney Anglican archdiocese, well known for forbidding clergy to wear a chasuble (see “tiresome” above), and where bishops wear nothing more than trousers and an open neck shirt when confirming – Rev. (am I allowed to give him this title?) Michael Williamson (“Senior Minister” at Shellharbour City Centre Anglican Church) writes of his positive experiments with wearing a clerical collar.

I regularly wear a clerical collar; certainly when I am somewhere representing the church and not primarily myself. It commonly leads to conversations that are clearly important to people. The experience has been mostly enjoyable for me. But there have been times when I have been berated, and have had intense conversations with people who have been deeply damaged by the church’s abuse of money, sex, and power. Such an encounter is far from enjoyable; they have led me to being upset, even in tears – but we, formally authorised representatives of the church, clearly identifiable as such, do need to be, and be seen to be honest about our own and our institution’s profound sinfulness.

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105 thoughts on “Collaring clergy”

  1. I am disappointed that the phrase ‘more relevant to modern congregations’ has been used by the CofE.

    I would prefer to see a debate on what is ‘appropriate’ re clergy attire. (Speaking personally, I think it appropriate for clergy to be robed leading a formal liturgy in a formal church used to clergy being robed; for clergy not to be robed leading a liturgy (formal or otherwise) where the church is used to its clergy not robing; for clergy not to be robed when, say, leading a service around a camp fire or, for that matter, with a small group gathered around a hospital bed). With the onset of ‘fresh expressions’ I am not convinced that robed clergy will be appropriate for all the possibilities I hear talked about.

    I would also like to see discussion on what is appropriate robing and clergy attire for the 21st century. While acknowledging evolution in robing, what we consider to be ‘robing’ (or even have laid down in church law as require robing) owes a lot to the dress of ancient gentlemen/noblemen and little to Jesus himself. What might a 21st century robe look like? Has the church ever asked that question?

    On clergy attire, why clergy shirt-with-collar? When will we discuss whether we might have (say) a shirt with a corporate logo? Wearing a jacket with ‘Clergy’ blazoned across the front and back would surely generate as many conversations as a clergy shirt? Alternatively, what if Anglican priests and deacons committed themselves to wearing a cross with whatever shirt/blouse they otherwise choose to wear? [Of course our crosses would need to be regulated to be smaller than episcopal crosses 🙂 ].

    Finally, this sentence above, “The obsession with using vesture to underscore status, or signal churchmanship, or highlight the particular individuality of the wearer cuts across the value of the sign” is very important. I find that, albeit for the finest of motives “we just wanted to give our new priest the most creative chasuble imaginable”, a number of robes these days seem to highlight something other than whatever robes are meant to symbolise.

    1. Thanks, Peter, for adding your thoughtful comment into the discussion that is also going well on the facebook page.

      We could, too quickly, slip into discussion about the individual trees and lose sight of the forest. That noted, I have been present at a Eucharist in sweltering heat in a home with half a dozen people present where the presider wore full vesture from amice to chasuble. At the other end of the spectrum, a bishop confirms in a neo-gothic cathedral in trousers and open-neck shirt. Both IMO miss appropriate vesting. Both IMO misunderstand what vesting is.

      I also react against the baroque tendency of making liturgical vesture the platform on which to put an art exhibition. I have written regularly to resist our tendency to clutter our signs and symbols with other signs – as if a candle does not signify unless there is a cross on the candlestick, and the cruet does not signify unless there is a Chi Rho on it…

      I am intrigued that you immediately need crosses to vary in size depending on which order God calls one to – that is exactly the sort of thing that I think is unhelpful. Wearing a cross in our post-Christian culture carries no sign value. RC priests for some time wore a cross on an ordinary open-neck white shirt collar. The trend back to the clerical collar has been popular at least as I have watched it.

      Finally, I am very cautious about your phrase about clergy robing connected with what Jesus wore. I do not think that robing is at all about mimicking Jesus.

      Christmas season blessings.

      1. My tongue, Bosco, might be in my cheek re size of crosses!

        Mimicking Jesus is pretty important, isn’t it, in the presidency of the eucharist? We do what he did. We obey his command to ‘do this in remembrance’. But there were and are no commands of Jesus (or the apostles) about robing. Robing is a great tradition of the church and it has its uses (see comments in this thread) but:
        1. is robing necessary to be an Anglican Christian minister?
        2. is robing required by God of those called into the ordered ministry of God?
        3. is robing appropriate for each and every form of service being offered today in the diversity of the church as it seeks to connect to changing contexts, to the diversity of expectations within culture and across cultures and, above all, to give expression to the meaning of Jesus’ life in the world today?

        1. Yes, Peter – understand the tongue in cheek, but still want to underline that (a) how do we even get to think like this? (b) for some people this stuff is not tongue in cheek!

          As to “We do what he did” – who is the “we” in that and following sentences? Is it the presider (as your preceding sentence appears to imply) or is it all Christians gathered around the table?

          As to your three specific questions – I’ve clearly already answered them. Others may wish to add their thoughts…


          1. I am focusing on the presider because that is the usual focus when clerical robes are discussed in the context of leading services. (Understood, however, that in some churches many people wear robes for many purposes).

          2. Are you not underscoring my very point – you are clericalising Jesus’ command, and then linking it to mimicking Jesus’ dress sense? I do neither. Blessings.

  2. ‘what clergy wear is not intended to draw attention to the individual wearing them’

    I can almost hear a 1st century scribe using this exact same protest to Jesus. but still, Jesus did say, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets”. In other words, they love the symbols that underline their distinctness from ordinary run of the mill people of faith. Can we clergy honestly look into our hearts and say we don’t have the same temptation? I think not.

    Personally i think we’ve had more than enough of clericalism and its trappings. I love the Sundays in our church (once a month, and for eight weeks in the summer) when I lead the service in street clothes. To me, this is a symbol of the fact that we are all equally members of the Body of Christ, all ministers, and I am no more ‘to be revered’ (which is what ‘reverend’ means) than any other member of the congregation.

    1. Thanks, Tim. A great reflection.

      Following that approach, is it fair for us to understand that when you say “our church” you are not referring to a specific, consecrated building with an architectural style with some distinctness? You are not in a layout that is distinctive? You are not using a table that differs from the normal dinner table? You are gathered around it as you would any other meal? You are not using anything that distinguishes these services from other group gatherings… Just checking that there isn’t some sort of pride in being so humble…

      Christmas season blessings.

      1. Hi Bosco
        Not quite sure why you are taking that approach to Tim’s quite reasonable point about robing.

        One response to what I think you are trying to ask of Tim is to question why it is ‘robes’ which we clergy are asked to wear rather than (say) a suit or a certain colour shirt with a decent pair of trousers.

        The Lord’s Table, after all, remains a table, even if made with distinctive features. An organ or piano used for church worship is normally a normal organ or piano. Why do clergy need to ‘robe’ in order to both be distinct in respect of function within the distinctive church building and to lend distinction to the activities in the church building?

        1. Thanks, Peter.

          Not quite sure what “approach” you think I am taking… Firstly I commended Tim’s point as a great reflection.

          I saw Tim as (rightly, IMO) critiquing “clericalism and its trappings”. I think it is too simplistic to alter what clergy wear and think that this addresses deep-seated clericalism. Another approach is to depreciate clergy study, training, and formation as a response to deep-seated clericalism. I, for one, am not advocating either.

          So, my questioning Tim was to highlight that clericalism is often embodied in the very architecture of the building we worship in. It matters little to me how “undistinctive” The Lord’s Table is when the very layout of the church architecture and the way The Lord’s Table is used reinforces the impression that this piece of furniture belongs to the clergy. If this is the CEO’s office, and you just do not enter that office without the CEO’s explicit invitation and permission, it matters little if the CEO is in a suit or in his/her pyjamas.


          1. Ah, architecture of churches! When are setting up our not-too-expensive consultancy service? 🙂

  3. I find the Sydney ethos quite interesting – especially in the light of the fact that most Sydney clergy prefer to call themselves ‘ministers’ rather than priests. Perhaps that distinguishes Sydney clergy from most others in the Anglican Communion.

    Administration (minister?)seems more important to the Sydney clergy than representing Christ at the altar – especially where the pulpit becomes the centre of worship.

    I wear my clerical collar precisely to identify myself as available, pastorally, to anyone who cares to approach me. It works!

    1. If you are a “minister” and the pulpit and sermon is the centre of worship, then perhaps full collar and preaching tabs are appropriate (as in the Presbyterian tradition).
      My Dad (an ex-Congregational Presbyterian minister) once explained that the preaching tabs were a direct reference to the judicial role of ministers in Scotland in times gone by – where they also doubled as local magistrates.
      There is more history in the dress than we realise.

  4. I once redecorated my living room. It made zero impact on the number of visitors, but we liked living in the house more.
    More seriously, the value of recognisable clerical garb is that it keeps clergy neutral. You can wear the same outfit with the poorest and the richest people and be recognised simply as clergy – not as a member of a particular social class.
    I went to an Eucharist for the homeless in Washington DC recently. Everyone involved in the service, including the choir was robed. At first, I thought it was a bit over the top. Then I realised it was a highly effective equaliser. It marked everyone as a servant of Christ and took away any question of how one should dress for the occasion.
    Maybe the uniforms need some updated but I don’t think we should get rid of them.
    here is another little history of the clerical collar for those interested:
    I also wonder if there is a war-time connection to the current version.

  5. I read this article when it was first published (though not a reader of that particular rag). Much of it sounds like spin. I suspect that what is behind it is the regular flouting of the canons on vesture, mostly by ‘charismatic evangelicals’, leading to a move to delete the canons. I can understands that bishops do not want to order divested clergy to put on surplices, even where they disagree with their state of undress. An openly flouted canon is an embarrassment, hence its desired removal.

    Of course, canons directing the clergy to dress modestly and/or distinctively have long been made. The earliest purpose seems to be the outward demonstration of the virtues of the faith, and that priests could bring the church into disrepute by dressing too richly or provocatively. As the church became established in European society, clerical dress became an important indicator of the social role and status of the wearer (and facial hair became an important issue!). The early Protestant directive tended towards gowns and caps, as the marks of Renaissance scholars of the Word.

    Although the clerical collar is often seen as the most distinctive piece of clerical dress, it is a fairly recent addition. Certainly, Church of England canons do not direct it ever to be worn.

    1. Thanks, Gareth.

      Yes, it seems strange to me that of all the differing signs of clergy uniform it is the very-recent clerical collar that people appear most attached to.

      Living in a province where openly-flouted canons appear not to be an embarrassment – but rather very normal, I’m fascinated by the reasoning you present.


  6. I think that the video above and the link to the origin of the clergy collar are both off. As far as I can tell from drawings and woodcuts of the Middle Ages, the modern clergy collar is a stylization of the remnant of an undershirt, which by accident eventually set clergy apart in street dress. As stated above, the common street dress of Roman clergy, from whom Anglican clergy are descendants, was the cassock. The cassock had a closed collar. Common dress dating back to Roman times, was an undergarment that descended below the waist about to the knees, with sleeves & cuffs and a standup collar. By the Middle Ages, sometimes the undershirt’s collar had a bit of lace that can be scene in drawings sticking above the clergyman’s cassock collar.

    It was the Jesuits on mission to China who eventually adopted the Mandarin collar on their cassocks. The notch of the Mandarin collar exposed the standup collar of the undershirt beneath. Eventually all the Roman clergy adopted cassocks with Mandarin collars. Anglican clergy later modified their cassock’s collars, among other distinctions in the construction, to have a wider notch than the Roman clergy. (Which is why vestment manufacturers, like CM Almay & Sons in the USA, offer distinctly Roman vs Anglican cassocks.)

    Through the years undergarments became more and more abbreviated and first the rabat & collar were developed to wear under the cassock with a Mandarin collar and later the clergy shirt with the plastic tab collar, prevalent today, was invented to take the place of cassocks and rabats.

  7. When so much care is taken to dress our sports stars in colourful and stylish gear – both on and off the field, I wonder why people object to the liturgical embellishments that surround the celebration of the Eucharist.

    Saint Francis of Assisi, though strictly parsimonious with the clothing of the Brothers, was inclined towards the enhancement of the Ministers of the Eucharist and the appurtenances of the Altar with the best that the available money could provide. This was not to glorify the human wearers and bearers, but rather to signify the magnificence of the God Whom they served.

    The worship of God deserves our very best that can be offered – not for our own glory, but for the dignity and worship of the Creator and Lord.

    Informal worship settings are something rather different. But even then, dignity should be preserved, to suit the relative solemnity of the place and the occasion.

    If Sporting Award ceremonies require the use of formal attire; then the solemnity of celebrating the King of kings in worship must surely be observed in at least an equivalent manner.

    1. It’s a good point, Ron, but it proves too much. The logic of your argument would be that everyone in the congregation should be robed in appropriate splendour, since we all join together in celebrating the King of Kings. Also, it assumes that ‘the very best that can be offered’ is liturgical robes modelled on the formal dress of Roman magistrates. But those robes were once not liturgical – they were the robes of civil servants. So what would be wrong with Christian clergy once again dressing like civil servants to lead worship, as long as the clothes were seemly and did not draw undue attention to the wearer?

      However, I must admit that at this point I find myself asking the question, “How does God want to be worshipped? Is all this pomp and pageantry really important to him?” And the Anabaptist in me responds that since Jesus is the image of the invisible God, we ought to consult his teaching to find the answer to that question. But funnily enough, we get very few answers – ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, yes, and also ‘leave your gift on the altar and first be reconciled to your brother or sister’, but not much more than that. I conclude that to Jesus ‘the best that can be offered’ has a lot more to do with the attitude of the heart than the dress of the celebrant.

      1. I agree, Tim.
        As I think about the issues over robing I increasingly think there is a major Anglican debate to be had which is not being had.
        In particular I would like to see debate over what is appropriate as a ‘uniform’ re worship: something based on ancient times or something in keeping with today?
        To continue the sporting analogy: every player wears the same uniform, the captain at best being distinguished by an armband … but we Anglicans have made robing a means of reinforcing hierarchical status (a point which Bosco also makes). Might we consider a wholesale revision of robing to renew our acquaintance with gospel values re servanthood and humility?
        A further sporting analogy point (but one acknowledged by Ron): no one puts a uniform on when playing rugby on the beach … it would be helpful if Anglican rules re robing could distinguish contexts in which services take place. I reckon I should be able to preside over the breaking of bread in a cafe church without needing alb or stole!

        1. Thanks, Peter. I am in total agreement with you that donning an alb in some contexts is inappropriate. I would suggest the presider wear a stole – but it seems fine to me if one is not to hand. If I take home communion, or hospital-bed communion, I would take a stole with me.

          One point: I cannot think of a context in which a stole is inappropriate. I have already given an example in which full vesting was IMO inappropriate. Context, context, context.

          What I have written previously in Celebrating Eucharist (see towards the end of that page) I still pretty much stand by.

          I am not in such a rush as you to have a major debate on this, nor am I as either/or of your third sentence. I value continuity with the past – the church catholic extending through time as well as space (some might wish to abandon ancient texts! 😉 ) Whilst I would not press this idea of canonising vesture, I also would not seek to create new vesture ex nihilo. To continue the sporting analogy: I would not be in the forefront of pressing for the All Blacks to abandon their kit and wear pink with blue spots – even if it did get more sponsorship. Blessings.

          1. I have received communion from one of our local priests on a riverbank and in a high school staff room in Tonga. She always seems to have a stole in her pocket to put on no matter what else is involved. I really appreciate that – it is one of the symbols that says “this is serious”.

  8. You ask, Tim: “How does God want to be worshipped?”. I suppose the right answer to that might be, with heart, mind, soul, body and with all we have to offer – perhaps including our finest and richest panoply. I’m thinking now of the ‘wedding guest’ who did not come the the marriage feast with appropriate garments and was sent away.

    Also, to read of the preparations made for the building of the temple, the appurtenances of the priests (not the people, you notice). And then, then was the Scriptural reference: “Samuel ministered unto the Lord girded in a linen ephod”
    This is the antiphon we used to sing at meetings of the GSS (Guild of servants of The Sanctuary) when I was a lad back in the Coventry Diocese (next to your Diocese of Leicester).

    When we look at the regalia used by Lords Mayor (‘Their Worships’) in this country; does that not bespeak, at least, the sort of honour we should give to Alimighty God in our worship ceremonies? Indeed, even the offering of incense was spoken of at Temple worship: “And in EVERY PLACE, incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering” says the Lord of Hosts.

    If that was good enough for priests of the Old Covenant in Solomon’s Temple, it’s good enough for me when celebrating the New Covenant.

    No modern-day priest, worthy of the calling, wears vestments to enhance themselves. Rather, they are worn to cloth their imperfections with the glory of God, in Whose Name they lead worship

    Happy New Year to ALL our readers!

  9. I’m going to step a generation away from the Anglican edge of this conversation to offer a response and brief explanation I initiated on Twitter:

    Disrobing certainly hasn’t saved the United Methodist Church.

    At least in rural areas, and in our higher-profile large congregations, it is generally preferred that a pastor wear more casual clothes to match the average garb of the congregation.

    The problem with this, as Rev. Peters points out, is that we lose our uniform when we choose to dress casually, to remove the collar or robe or stole. For young persons and for women, the uniform helps to support our authority. It answers the What-are-you-doing-here question and bypasses conversations that take time and attention away from being in ministry with people.

    What disrobing is not doing for our rural churches, such as my three-point parish with typically less than 100 in attendance on Sunday morning, is saving our churches or our Church, writ large. Our rural churches are still suffering atrophy, still grieving the loss of family heads, founders, and “big givers”. And our rural churches are the lifeblood of our Church, the majority, though less visible than our high-profile megachurches, of our United Methodist population.

    People do understand what uniform is, and uniform defines who we are and what our expectations are. It gives us a starting place from which to initiate ministry with our people. It hardly matters what the history of the uniform is, however fascinating that study may be, because the uniform is recognized in our current context in a way that people do understand. It is a means of non-verbal communication, and hopefully it communicates the grace of Christ to both the observer and the wearer.

    1. Thanks so much, Brandon, for your thoughtful points, including that it does not matter what the history of the uniform is – which as with so much of church stuff is clearly either unknown or disputed. Christmas season blessings.

  10. Here’s my (continuing) reaction to the priest in the first photo. Who, I gather, is perhaps vested for “something:

    1. I see two “uniforms” actually. Which, together, confuse me – the onlooker.

    2. The most salient “costume” looks, to me, like an actor in a Shakespearean drama. Take out the clergy shirt and collar and even leave the stole. And…well, it would work well in a play!

    3. The shirt and collar seem completely out of place alongside the Elizabethan costume.

    So… I imagine the onlooker – seeing the complete attire, perhaps, in a mall. Wondering what’s going on…. Is a “happening” about to take place? Maybe a wedding in Elizabethan gear? Or is the person in two plays – wearing costumes for each? Or someone who can’t decide what to wear to the costume party? Perhaps a mental patient with identity problems?

    All of this is partly tongue in cheek. But, truly, it’s a very, very strange costume. I might stare, yes. I might wonder aloud to my spouse, followed by the two of us trying to figure out the meanings one could glean from the get-up. I doubt, however, that I would feel inspired to follow this priest to his parish.

  11. In addition to all of the wise things already said in defence of vestments-liturgy-wearing and doing the extra-ordinary in worship: CS Lewis had many admirers from non-liturgical, protestant denominations who were often hugely disappointed to discover just how anchored he was in daily office prayer, the sacraments, liturgy – the whole shebang. He was always gentle but firm in his defence of this tradition (The Tradition) of prayer and worship. Rejection of vestments and liturgy, he argued, was a rejection of the rhythms and cadences of embodied, en-fleshed existence. We express ourselves, especially in celebration, by dress, by signs, by received and patterned ways of doing and saying things because that’s how the body, that’s how nature loves to work. It rather likes seasons, rhythms, tides, cycles – things that are always changing, and always the same. It’s why Lewis argued that the shared body-language of ritualised dancing is a more fundamental human activity than is business or commerce. The whole liturgical tradition, of which vestments are an ancient and intrinsically embedded part, are a deep intuition of this humble yet glorious reality.

    (Lewis source: my friend Ivor, an older priest friend who was taught by Lewis as an undergrad at Cambridge).

    Pax, Jesse

    1. Thanks, Jesse. Your point about CS Lewis and what he was really like reminds me of so many others (Merton springs to mind). I imagine many, with stained-glass images of Jesus, would be sorely surprised to be taken by Dr Who back to meet him say 1985 years ago. The way Jesus prayed and what he wore during that is not well mimicked by those who think that is what they are doing when they vest, as suggested by some, including here… Blessings.

  12. I think, Bosco, in view of certain difficulties our diocese has been facing in recent years, like the All Blacks, we could do with some global insurer’s sponsorship … perhaps stamped on the visible part of each clergy collar 🙂

  13. In the Orthodox Church, outside of traditionally-Orthodox countries, this argument is flipped interestingly; some advocate clergy wearing pants and a shirt with a western-style clergy collar (and often shaving) in order to fit in to the western idea of what clergy look like, whereas others want clergy to wear the cassock, beard, and long hair, as that’s the customary uniform of Orthodox clergy. I tend to side with the latter, for several reasons. First, the cassock is no less recognizably clerical than the collar is. Second, the cassock identifies *Orthodox* clergy, which, if I really need a priest, is what I want to know. Third, Eastern vestments look weird with a tabbed collar poking out (and weirdest of all, Eastern vestments over a Greek-style cassock over an Anglican-style clergy shirt — which I’ve seen).

  14. Interesting discussion.
    I am trying to figure out what the heart of the issue is.
    There seems to be one line (from clergy and laity?) that we do want our clergy to be identifiable as clergy. And I would add to that, that a degree of uniformity in dress code is desirable.
    There may be some need to clarify the rules and update some of the dress standards. But largely, I am not sure we are too far wrong with what we have got.

    And there is a second argument (from some clergy??) that clergy should look like modestly, well-dressed parishioners (what ever that may mean) and blend in (however that might be accomplished, given the huge variety of people that turn up to church these days).

    I just don’t get the real reasoning for the second argument. The clergy/priest in any church takes on a role and IMO should be identifiable. Even in Baptist churches, the pastor will wear markers of identification, even if as modest as a larger name tag.

    In the Anglican tradition, the priest is taking on a very definite sacramental role, so outward signs of this are not only appropriate but necessary signals.

    The second answer feels a bit like the manager who wants to be my friend on work time. We can be friends at the pub after hours, but during the day s/he is my boss.

    I am also really concerned about which group in the congregation the priest ends up blending in with. The absolute value of clerical garb is their unique social neutrality.

    And btw the correct traditional summer uniform of the Wellington civil servant is short sleeved shirt and tie, walk shorts, walk socks and sandals. You might see why I prefer robes 😉

    1. I think the real division, David, is between those who favour preaching over sacramental activity. One only has to look at the Sydney Diocese to see that the prohibition of chasubles for celebration of the Eucharist is an ongoing mark of disdain for enhancement of the worship of the Incarnate Lord in the Sacred Elements of The Holy Communion.

      Mere recitation of the Word in the Bible does not need liturgical embellishment, whereas the representation of The Word-made-flesh in the Eucharistic Vestments is a potent symbol of the Real Presence.

      As for wearing of collar or cassock in public, I have always found them to be a way of showing one’s availability for ministry to all and sundry – one of the marks of the Gospel – obscuring the personality of one’s-self while identifying with the mission of Jesus.

      And all in the name of Jesus – today’s Feast. “Jesus, Name above ALL names”.

    2. David, you clearly articulate the reasons why I choose to wear clerical garb for work-related functions. I confess that I appreciate the beauty seen in many creative, modern, and/or expensive vestments, but I shy away from some of them, for they receive more comments than most other facets of liturgical expression. My goal is that my attire and my mode of presiding point the worshiper to God, not to me. Similarly, wearing clericals during church functions reminds me that I am present because of my office, not because of my personality or popularity or connections. The “uniform” helps all of us remember that I am not another friend, but a priest (who has responsibilities and boundaries). Thank you for your contribution to this topic.

  15. Hi all, I’m in the middle of a very busy work week this week, so this will be brief.

    First, Ron, I don’t know if there’s a great deal of point in me giving a detailed reply to your note, as you and I obviously start from completely opposite presuppositions of what the priesthood is. I do not believe you can draw a straight line from the old covenant priest to the new covenant presbyter. The word ‘priest’ in the OT sense is never used of pastors/elders in the NT. I’m not going to go into detail on this, as anything I could possibly said has been brilliantly said already by Bishop Lightfoot in ‘The Christian Ministry’. I have yet to see a convincing refutation of his arguments. And that being the case, the fact that in the old covenant priests were ornately vested and others were not is irrelevant, given that in the new covenant the whole people of God is a royal priesthood.

    Second, can I just point out that we seem to be bouncing around between two different discussions here – the clerical collar, and clergy vestments. The actual debate at the C of E GS was about clergy vestments, so the title ‘Collaring Clergy’ is a bit misleading. Personally I wear alb and stole most Sundays, but clerical collar hardly ever. I don’t think they are the same issue.

    Third, I come at this conversation as a person who sees one of his primary ministries as evangelism. That being the case I am constantly trying to find ways of making connections with people who are completely outside the culture of church – in my case, that often means the folk music community of Edmonton, of which i am a member. I have had many, many important conversations about God and Christ with people in that community, but on the one or two occasions when I have dropped in on an event wearing a clerical collar, the effect on conversations has been extremely negative.

    Finally, the older I get, the more I want to pare down my ministry to the stuff that is really important in terms of Christian discipleship. There are many traditions that have grown up in the Christian church over the centuries which, I believe, are long past their best-before dates. If we were starting the while thing again, we probably wouldn’t do it this way.

    Right, got to go. Happy New Year, all.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I think we are at least in the same part of the book and often on the same page in our approach. Thanks for distinguishing collar and vesting better. I am fascinated by comments (more elsewhere than here) of those who replace vesting for services with the (relatively late) collar – and have the collar as that which they would last let go of (as I mentioned in the original post). Like you, I find the NT clearer about differences between πρεσβύτερος and ἱερεύς – but I also acknowledge a relatively early conflation/cross-fertilisation of concepts. Blessings.

      1. So a conversation that started with how to dress for the occasion, takes us to the very heart of the identity of the church.
        How important is it to retain the identity of the Anglican Church as centered on sacramental life? And in doing so, do we retain a class of ordained clergy who preside over the sacraments. Or do we embrace change and move in the direction of other churches who put the greater emphasis on preaching the word – action and speech.
        I can appreciate in England, this question takes on a very different aspect than in other countries, like NZ. Where in England, the Anglican church is THE CoE, and is watching its numbers dwindle alarmingly.
        Here, we are one of many mainstream church, all looking at dwindling numbers, with the possible exception of the Catholics.
        It is not without some irony, that I strongly advocate, that the Anglican Church must retain its sacramental focus. Let that go, and we are just another church. If I wanted good preaching, I would go back to the Presbyterians. If I want contemplation, I have an open invitation to the Quakers. But there is something special about the sacramental life of the church we need to hold onto and nourish. And that includes how we dress. I am not saying it can’t change – but we can’t loose it either.
        The irony? My parents were on the Joint Commission for Church Union back in the 1970s and sorely lamented the fact that church union in NZ was lost by one vote in the Anglican church. And precisely for these reason.
        Also, I am not sure the OT/NT exegesis is particularly helpful as it is caught up in the fall of the Second Temple and narrative of Jesus superseding the Jerusalem Temple cult.
        The real question is how do we express the sacraments in a way that is meaningful in the 21st century? Big question that!

        1. Well, personally I don’t think that the preservation of the identity of the Anglican Church is a gospel value (Thomas Cranmer would certainly not have lost any sleep over it!) I think that in so far as the Anglican church continues to worship God in spirit and in truth, spread the gospel and make disciples, we can leave its future and the preservation of its identity to God!

          I also agree with Donald Coggan, who taught that we are a church that emphasizes Word and Sacrament, not choosing one over the other. In no way do I advocate letting go of the third point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and I’m actually rather tired of the slur that evangelicals are anti-sacramental. You don’t have to have an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the sacraments in order to love them, or even to be a ‘proper Anglican’.

          1. Thanks, Tim. Like you I am wary of arguing that there is an Anglican way of doing things. It soon degenerates, I suspect, into “this is the way we have always done it.” We too take-for-granted the denominational fragmentation of Christianity, and then overlay that with a capitalist worldview of the benefit of not having monopolies so that people can choose from alternatives.

            I am also wary of siloing into “evangelicals”, “Anglo-Catholic” etc. Just for a start, I have yet to find someone define “evangelicals” in such a manner that all evangelicals are included and others are not.


          2. Just to be clear, I certainly don’t want to be putting labels onto people by their practices and theology. I think that is a way of not listening to people.
            Personally I resent the appropriation of the term “evangelical” to mean a very specific brand of theology. Anyone who loves and proclaims the gospel is an evangelist. And anyone who understands the unity of the whole church is a catholic. So we need to get over these divisions, while respecting our differences.
            And I absolutely agree, there are many who would be labeled “Evangelical” who love, live and enjoy the sacraments and will even robe to the max!
            The discussion of denominationalism and church identity is a much bigger topic and worthy of its own blog. So maybe that is something you could add to your list for this year.
            And I accept your correction, Tim, that there must be a balance of Word and Sacrament.
            So getting back to the topic – a couple of radical thoughts:
            1.)lets rethink the clerical collar, its a late innovation, and lets come up with some symbolism that can identify any minister in public (lay or ordained).
            (I have been rereading roles of Ministry in NZPB/HKMA pp931/932, and wondering if it more a case of raising the role of our lay ministers rather than lowering the role of our ordained ministers)
            2. There is a case for some sensible, and up-to-date, dress standards for those presiding over the sacraments. These need to maintain minimum expectations, have some uniformity, while allowing for differences in circumstance and cultural/theological expression.

            But going back to Bosco’s original point, having done that, lets be clear that we have only patched up the wall paper.

  16. Although I subscribe to understanding the New Testament as an example of what the first churches were about, I think that in most everything we have the out, the loophole or whatever one chooses to call it when Jesus stated that he gave the Keys to the Realm to Peter, which tradition holds has been given to the church today through our bishops. So what we decide as the Church, God puts up with! 🙂

  17. In New Orleans (where I live) and throughout South Louisiana, a great deal of energy is given to dressing up for Carnival and especially for the final day of Mardi Gras. Certainly no one argues hereabouts for divesting on those occasions. C of E and other churches, pay attention!

  18. “to make services more relevant to modern congregations.”

    I find that rather condescending: the idea that young people want things more trendy and dumbed down.

    In my experience, people don’t WANT there to be the same things in the church that there are outside of it. That’s part of the reason they go to church: a hunger for depth and solemnity that they aren’t getting outside of it.

    In NYC, the churches that do the most traditional liturgies are usually the ones that are full. Of young people.

    1. Thanks, Ignatz. I regularly make the point that church should be and do church – that’s what we can do well. Others can do pub, and cafe, and dramatic production well and when we, as church, try and mimic them, not only do we do it not as well, but those who want good pub, or cafe, or drama will go to a pub, or cafe, or theatre.

      Your last paragraph is fascinating. The statistical projection in NZ is that following the liturgy is the church that will still be here in the future.


  19. The whole idea of “vesting” is such an interesting topic. One can see this just from the many responses here. (And I’m not on Facebook so I have no idea what else is going on.)

    Nevertheless, I’m now thinking of the symbolism of attire. Throughout the Bible, there are lots of clues. Adam and Eve in a story where disobedience leads them to become aware of their own nakedness. And while God expels them, he also clothes them – offering a kind of protection for their new, more difficult life.

    There are other stories which involve clothing. Joseph, with his coat of many colors – denoting his Father’s favoritism. But Joseph, in jail in Egypt, once he’s freed, is clothed in such a way as to denote his new status.

    Some characters in Genesis disguise their identities, using clothing. Or, like Joseph, the clothing signifies a new identity.

    One could speculate that at times in scripture one’s identity is changed or signified by giving of a new name. At times by the clothing worn (for example, the strict instructions to the disciples about what to wear evangelizing in the Gospel).

    Jesus, before washing feet (which of course precedes his arrest, torture, and death) starts by taking off his outer garment to clothe himself in a towel. Yes, this makes sense in terms of the story. But why point this out, unless the writer wants us to consider how the “stripping off” is like the humility of the immediate task and the utter self-abandonment to his ULTIMATE task – of redemption.

    Somehow, inherent in all these stories, I have to assume, is WISDOM which might aid in considering the meaning of “vesting” or “unvesting” (think of the meaning of “defrocking”!), what it all means, and how to consider one’s status as God’s representative in offering food, drink, blessings. And beyond that – what signs do we make use of in discerning the Holy Spirit’s “anointing” of anyone – including laity. (For the Eastern Church believes and endorses that many who are not clergy have nonetheless been anointed for ministry. Which would include acting as a confessor. Or perhaps being elevated to Bishop – as some were in the early Church.)

    Just some thoughts to add to this fertile mix here!

  20. Thank you, Fr Bosco, for reminding us what is going on in the Sydney diocese.

    Concerning the vestments, there is a distinction, since the pre-modern times, between liturgical ornaments and street uniforms of the clergy. In the beginning, both of them were mere usual lay vestments, but they have changed.

    An unchasubled priest at Mass attracts the attention upon his very self, instead of representing Christ.

    But as for the uniform of the clergy, I suppose those plastic collars must be very dirty and uncomfortable. Why not cassocks? At least, they are comfortable and handy.

    @Peter Gardner: I don’t know from which ethnic Eastern tradition you are sprung, but my experience is very different. In their original countries, most Eastern secular priests don’t really like cassocks, save for those who work in an office and for those who are very conservative. Most of them use to wear the cassock only under the liturgical vestments (which is weird). The mainstream use a clerical waistcoat, both on the street and under the alb, but they still use the cassock in church if they don’t take the alb.

  21. Dear Bosco
    Your policy of not publishing ad hominem comments appears to have allowed a slur against unchasubled clergy who nevertheless robe to pass through to publication.

    “An unchasubled priest at Mass attracts the attention upon his very self, instead of representing Christ.”

    I object to that comment in the strongest possible terms: it is an unreasonable, unevidenced statement without foundation which offers no understanding of the principled objection to chasuble wearing which upholders of the reformed tradition of Anglicanism (also known as ‘evangelicals’) maintain by not wearing chasubles.

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      I did not read Georges’ comment as referring to priests who robe, following the custom of their community, in alb and stole, sans-chasuble. Remembering his primary language I’m presuming is French, I took his comment to refer to priests who refused to vest. That could be extended, I presume, to those who refuse to don a chasuble in a community for which that is the norm.

      If your interpretation is correct, Peter, and Georges’ comment is specifically referring to the chasuble part of vesting, then you are welcome to discuss (challenge?) such a strong statement as his with him. Either way, I don’t think I should have prevented his comment from going through moderation.

      I am not convinced that there is a clear definition of “evangelicals”. If you have one – let’s have it. There are chasuble-wearing “evangelicals” and non-chasuble-wearing “evangelicals”. If there is a “principled objection to chasuble wearing” and a Reformation-reason for not wearing a chasuble – let’s also hear them. The chasuble is worn in many Reformation-following/affirming churches. In my reading of the BCP (the reformed Anglican Prayer Book), the chasuble is required.


    2. In reference to Peter’s comment here, I had always presumed that the epithet ‘ad hominem’ applied only when an actual individual was named, in a way that implied an insult to them, specifically. If you are going to extend it to classes of people, the whole web-world could be accounted in error.

      1. Hi Ron
        Generally I agree with you. But I think sometimes a ‘class’ ad hominem is worth taking up.

        Suppose it were the other way round and I alleged that “all chasuble wearing Anglican priests were crypto-Romanists” – that would be an insult, would it not to members of the class being spoken about?

        1. How does this differ, Peter, to your suggestion that all chasuble-wearing Anglican priests can dangerously misrepresent reading Scripture as supporting the importance of Christ’s death on the cross as a once and for all substitutionary sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, the final/supreme authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice and importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and suggest that the eucharist is a re-offering of Christ’s sacrifice? Blessings.

          1. Hi Bosco
            My point, perhaps ham-fistedly made, is that the wearing of the chasuble raises questions of ‘why’, and thus is open to misinterpretation.

            I appreciate, having checked some things you say in Celebrating Eucharist, that the chasuble is this, in your view: “They are not symbolic (efforts to give them symbolic value are “allegorical”). Wearing them can no longer be construed as promoting a certain “churchmanship” or theology of the Eucharist. They are more akin to a uniform.”

            But are you correct?! As we engage in this conversation I am realising that some principles are at stake which are not at all settled between us. Are robes worn because they have meaning or not? Is allegorising robes wrong? Are robes merely uniform? (If so, why this uniform and not another?) Do they no longer promote a certain churchmanship? (If not, then not wearing robes would not be promoting any kind of churchmanship either …). Is the wearing of robes disconnected from a specific theology of the eucharist? (If it is so disconnected, then no effect on theology of the eucharist should be felt if robes are not worn …?)

            I am NOT asking you to respond to these questions: I note them to highlight a number of questions which are not settled, not only between us, but in the life of our church and (from comments made elsewhere here) across our Communion.

          2. I repeat, Peter, my point from a previous comment to you – I think the either/or approach of your questions prevent proper dialogue. As do words such as “merely”, “only”, “just”.

            Allegorising robes is not “wrong“. It can just lead to conversations like these – where people are intensely against something because they don’t like what they have been told it allegorises as. I used to wear a cincture. I was asked what the knots symbolised. My answer was not appreciated by the enquirer. I answered that they symbolised that I would not trip over the cord. You can make them the two natures of Christ, or the two testaments of the Bible, or whatever number of knots you like. My questioner would have gone away satisfied had I made up some tale like that.

            St Augustine of Hippo (4th century) refers to the chasuble – it was a common article of dress. By the ninth century in many places it was going out of fashion but retained by clergy. Allegorisors, like yourself, started to attach “meaning” to it.

            Rabanus Maurus (800 AD) repeats the idea that chasuble derives from casa, a house. He sees it as covering all, and therefore symbolises charity. Amalarius (824 AD), says it symbolises hungering, thirsting, watching, nakedness, reading, psalm singing, prayer, toil, teaching, silence, and everything else of that kind. Later, the double fold of the chasuble between the shoulders symbolise that good works should be performed both towards people and towards God. The double fold on the breast symbolise the need both of learning and of truth. And so on and on the allegorisers spin their allegories.

            As I’ve suggested, I do not understand your approach to religion that is not applied like this in other places. What does the black of the All Blacks mean? What does the white of our cricketers mean? You wear a jacket to a formal meal, a suit when that is the norm. I do not see you asking what does your jacket mean? And then refusing to wear it because someone suggests it means something you don’t like or agree with. Or refusing to wear your jacket because if it has no meaning it doesn’t matter not wearing it.


    3. Yes Peter, please share with us the reason behind such principled objection to vesting in a chasuble. Perhaps you could share your understanding of what a chasuble is, because you appear to have a different understanding of it than I do.

      And while you are at it please explain the difference between those of us who are Anglican and those of you who are reformed Anglicans. I thought that Anglicanism was a reformed tradition. I didn’t realize that there are those of you who are more reformed than the rest of us.

      1. Hi David
        My further comments re chasubles are in a yet to be moderated comment.

        On the question of being ‘reformed’, yes, the Anglican church in its formal history is a reformed church, as you point out.

        In my experience of Anglicanism there are Anglicans who value the reformed tradition of their church more than others, there are Anglicans who seem almost ashamed of the English Reformation (though to put that in perspective, it would appear that many such Anglicans have since converted to Rome in toto, or at least joined the Anglican Ordinariate).

        I think, in the end, there are some Anglicans who ‘more reformed’ than other Anglicans. When, for example, I look at some things promoted in the Diocese of Sydney, I feel I am seeing a group of Anglicans who are ‘more reformed’ than myself!

        1. Thanks, Peter. My view of what the Diocese of Sydney promotes is quite different to yours – rather than being “more reformed” than you, I think they do not understand the Reformation well. Blessings.

          1. I would appreciate an invite to the public debate – whenever it occurs – between you and Sydney leadership on the motion, ‘The Sydney Diocese does not understand the Reformation.’ 🙂

      2. Having grown up in Sydney, I am use to seeing the Priest celebrating communion wearing an alb and stole. Even when bringing communion to the sick at home (as reservation is also illegal in Sydney it has to be a priest) the priest always put on a stole. When I began attending one of the few Anglo-Catholic churches, the presiding priest wore a cope.
        This year I did not return to Sydney for Christmas and my sister did not want to make the long journey into the city on Christmas day by herself so went to her local parish church. Even she was horrified to see the priest in a lounge suit, thankfully with a clerical collar, and no sign of any vestment for the celebration of communion. I have found a church which is closer to her home where the priest assures me he wears vestments for the Eucharist. I never saw a chasuble worn in an Anglican church until I moved to Dunedin.

  22. Hi Bosco
    The description was ‘unchasubled’ which I think can be taken to refer to any priest wearing any garments save for the chasuble. If George meant ‘unrobed’ perhaps he should have written that?

    I think that any minister wearing a chasuble while claiming to be an evangelical is the one who should define what ‘evangelical’ means, since in ordinary ecclesial parlance an evangelical is a Christian emphasising important aspects of the Protestant Reformation on the basis of reading Scripture as supporting the importance of Christ’s death on the cross as a once and for all substitutionary sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, the final/supreme authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice and importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; a consequence of which approach is a determination not to offer words spoken or symbolic which are suggestive of the eucharist being an offering of sacrifice on our part or a re-offering of Christ’s sacrifice. The chasuble can be such a ‘symbolic word’ and in my experience evangelicals steer clear of wearing it lest misinterpretation result.

    I appreciate that you read the BCP as requiring the wearing of chasubles. Perhaps that is so. However I will keep company with the thousands and thousands of evangelical Anglicans who do not understand the BCP to require wearing of chasubles. If our reading of the BCP is wrong, so be it. We will not wear chasubles!

    1. As I mentioned in my post, Peter, “Allegorisation of vesture is tiresome … more so when it is used to refuse to wear such clothing.” As I’m sure you know, the origin of the cope and the chasuble were identical, the chasuble being only a cope with its edges sewn together. Essentially this is the φαιλόνης of 2 Tim 4:13 “When you come, bring the cloak (φαιλόνης) that I left with Carpus at Troas”.

      Symbols do not require the sort of allegorisation you are employing. And to suggest that somehow the chasuble is an anti-Reformation ‘symbolic word’ (whatever that may be) is, using your words, “an unreasonable, unevidenced statement without foundation which offers no understanding of” the majority position for presiding in a chasuble currently and throughout Christian history. That usage, as I have highlighted, includes Reformation churches. It includes the current Archbishop of Canterbury (would he not be allowed to understand himself as an evangelical? And is he denying all you suggest he is denying by wearing the chasuble?). The chasuble is effectively the “jacket” over the alb. On formal occasions where we would now expect a jacket to be worn it is understandable that the church has expected the presider to wear a chasuble.

      To make the chasuble be some sort of ‘symbolic word’ representing all that you suggest it does is as bizarre and arcane as a suggestion that turning anti-clockwise rather than clockwise as one turns to face the people is a denial of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and the Resurrection.

      The “we” of your last sentence merely disintegrates, then, into a statement of those who refuse to wear a chasuble because they refuse to wear a chasuble.


  23. The only meaning any of these vestments have is the meaning that humans give to them; God has not spoken to us anywhere and said, “A stole means this”, or “A chasuble means this”. So when someone says, “A chasubled priest represents Christ” in a way that an unchasubled priest does not – well, that is a meaning that some people read into the clothing, but others do not.

    That being the case, it is worth pointing out that for three hundred years the standard Anglican vesture did not include chasubles, and that chasubles were almost universally seen in Anglicanism as a ‘papist’ (that is the word that would have been used) vestment. They were associated theologically with the doctrine of the Mass as a sacrifice, and when the Oxford Movement clergy first began to introduce them into Anglicanism, it was the ‘sacrifice of the mass’ doctrine that they were specifically wanting to reintroduce along with them. The reason that most evangelicals, historically, have not wanted to wear chasubles is precisely because we object to the theology of the eucharistic sacrifice. And we object to this because of our roots in Reformed theology – that is to say, the theology of John Calvin, which Thomas Cranmer followed quite closely, as his books on the Lord’s Supper make clear.

    Still, in the last analysis it isn’t the wearing or the non-wearing of a chasuble or any other vestment that enables a priest to ‘represent Christ’ to his or her congregation. When we live Christlike lives, we will remind people of Christ – just as they will remind us of Christ when they live Christlike lives. That’s the only sort of ‘representing Christ’ that carries any credibility with me, and I’ve seen it in robed clergy and in pastors in jeans and sports shirts.

    1. I would press it further than you do at the start, Tim. As I said in my post, and I reinforce now, imposing a “meaning” onto, say, a chasuble is as bizarre as imposing a meaning on, say, a tie. That being the case, the rest of your points fall away. Yes, wearing a tie, to continue with that analogy, can be associated with wealth and power – but objecting to wearing a tie because of this association doth protest too much, methinks. I, for one, contrary to your comment, do not think that by my wearing of a chasuble that I am thereby “representing Christ”. Blessings.

      1. Well I increasingly object to wearing ties because they are a relic of the past, irrelevant to today’s varied standards of expectations about (formal) dress, probably get in the way of conversation with non-tie wearers and Scripture does not say we need to wear them 🙂

  24. Hi Bosco
    If “Symbols do not require the sort of allegorisation you are employing” is true, then why do we wear robes of any kind, at all? And why do we wear (say) a stole rather than (say) a knitted scarf? I have understood that we wear robes because they symbolise things, and important things at that (to those who subscribe to the symbolism).

    I do not think it is at all unevidenced that chasuble wearing has a history in the Anglican church in the last two hundred years of being associated with anglo-catholic theology of the eucharist and of priesthood. More recently chasuble wearing has become (in ACANZP, the church I know best re practice) a practice of many who subscribe to no label or, one might say, susbcribe to the ‘broad church’, and, yes, even some evangelicals wear them. But it is also evidenced that a number of evangelicals both do not wear chasubles and even refuse or try to refuse to wear them when forced to do so. The reason is not that evangelicals are defined by not being chasuble wearers but that evangelicals (some, at least) continue to wish to dress in a manner which they see in keeping with their theology and in distinction with other theologies present in our church.

    I also do not think it bizarre to resist wearing the chasuble when I find that it is chasuble wearing priests in our church who continue, contrary to the theology of our church, to add words into our eucharistic services which are drawn from the Roman mass, about the offering of the mass as a sacrifice to God. Agreed that not all chasuble wearing priests add these objectionable words (objectionable that is to the group who would like to call themselves what you would prefer us not to call ourselves!). But one way to illustrate our disagreement with such words being tolerated in our church is to not wear chasubles.

    These, of course, are not the only arguments re not wearing chasubles. Strongest in my view is that there is a now long and honourable tradition of Anglicans susbcribing to our Protestant and reformed heritage by cassock surplice and scarf or, as a modernization of that, a cassock alb and stole (or scarf).

    As for ++Justin Welby continuing to describe himself as an evangelical and wearing chasubles: good luck to him! He may by example and speech persuade evangelicals to follow him. Or not. He may also call into doubt the resoluteness of his personal commitment to evangelical theology. Or not. Time will tell.

    1. Your first paragraph, Peter, would require a whole study in itself – not just a blog post, let alone a comment. Some of that I work on in my book Celebrating Eucharist, eg The Worship Environment. Briefly: symbols, like words, speak for themselves. They may stand in dialogue, but words do not replace symbols, and symbols do not replace words. Signs, on the other hand, need interpretation – we do not understand what they mean until someone has translated their meaning into words – and signs are monovalent – they mean this and only this. You are reducing a chasuble to a sign – and also you are defining what that sign means. I am neither agreeing with your reduction, nor your definition.

      That vested priests add to and subtract from our agreed rites, preach Christianity Lite, nonsense, or absolute heresy, does not lead me to abandon vesting; just as Christians abusing, sinning, and being hypocritical, does not lead me to abandon following Jesus.


      1. Hi Bosco
        I am confused by your comment here. If symbols speak for themselves then how come we cannot agree on the meaning of chasubles?

        Or do they have no meaning, just a history of customary usage?

        Through all this I find myself asking, why then are chasubles worn?

        1. I am confused by your either/or approach, Peter. What is the meaning of water, oil, laying on hands, people gathered, flowers, incense, fire,…? The answer to your question is to abandon all signs and symbols a-la-Salvation-Army. Woops! Having abandoned them, we humans start making new ones: uniform, flag… Yes, chasubles have a “history of customary usage” – why use the belittling “just” with that? Blessings.


          1. Hi Bosco,
            I suspect meaning is in the eye of the beholder in these instances. In my own confused way I think I am getting at this: it is one thing for chasubles to be worn in contexts in which their several meanings and/or customary usage (if not history as well) are recognised and appreciated, and it is another where they are not. To be clear: I am for chasuble being worn by those comfortable wearing them in contexts where they are recognised and appreciated.

            But I question rules and/or expectations in Anglican churches about chasubles which appear to presume that wearing chasubles is the norm for eucharistic presidency. I am also questioning (pace George commenting here) any assumptions that to be in some way less robed than expected or dressed without robes (but otherwise appropriately to context) is in some way or another necessarily falling short of some kind of ideal or standard of ministry … in a post-Christendom era, with some keen thinking going on re ‘Fresh Expressions’ I am keen for Anglican churches, including our own, to have rules which permit breadth of liturgical vesture and expectations of one another which offer encouragement to appropriately work out what the conduct of worship services in a new age means.

            I do not wish to throw bathwater out with babies here; nor to offer an either/or (as I appear to have done), not least because many contexts involve mixed expectations. But I am very concerned that elements of our practice, driven by past traditions and customs, may be inhibitory to some Anglicans in some situations offering true Fresh Expressions of the church in changing environments.

          2. I think, Peter, that no one here has been suggesting that chasubles must be worn in all circumstances. In fact it was my second comment on this now-87-comment post (and in response to you) that I suggested the inappropriateness of such full vesting in sweltering heat in a home with half a dozen people present.

            But I also see little support here for your position of “We will not wear chasubles!” come what may.

            This latest comment of yours seems to express much more the mind of most here. I might express similar sentiments but in a slightly different way. Starting from the chasuble being the normal vesture for Eucharistic presidency. It is fascinating to me that this rather quickly-produced post has resulted in so much energy. That it does so, I think highlights a confused emphasis in our church. As I said, “if you think that clergy wearing street clothes is going to renew the church and bring droves of young people into your building, then you are the sort of person who thinks that changing the wall paper in your living room is going to put out the fire that is burning down your house.” I was visiting a church this morning. It was packed. That the priest wore a chasuble enhanced the worship, but anyone who thinks that wearing or not wearing a chasuble was the core of this fine worship is thoroughly confused.

            Nor would I go as far as you that meaning of a symbol is in the eye of the beholder – to the point that it can mean whatever we wish. But I am strongly against the allegorisation of symbol that reduces it to one meaning – a not uncommon experience amongst Anglicans. We are told the Easter Candle represents Christ’s resurrection light – full stop, when it also is the pillar of fire, etc…


  25. I think that the chasuble now suffers from folks having no idea what it is, nor from what it derives. Forgive me Padre Bosco, but I have a much different understanding than even you do of the chasuble.

    The garment is much more simple in origin than its current usage would suggest. Especially as used by priests who now wear it for the entire service*.

    It originated as a mini alb that was donned by the priest just prior to the celebration of the Eucharist and was thrown on over his cassock which was his daily “work suit” so that he was wearing something clean and white that didn’t have the dust of perhaps having just come in from the street. During the “service of the word” the priest wore a stole with his cassock and then just prior to the Eucharist the chasuble was placed over the cassock and stole. It was removed as the meal ended and the service was completed in just cassock and stole.

    *I sat through a training session for “lay ministers of worship” in a non-Anglican church once where the instructor stated that the chasuble was the vestment of the High Priest and was only to be worn by the Senior pastor/minister during service. And that was how this protestant church used vestments; Assistant Ministers wore simple albs and stoles and the Senior Minister wore an alb, an elaborate chasuble and a much more elaborate stole over the top of the chasuble.

    1. Thanks, Br David. What dating are you suggesting for the mini-alb understanding? I am used to a variety of histories for different church vesture and practices – just as I am used to a variety of histories for other human practices and vesture. I think the “High Priest” origin particularly bizarre. To stay with the tie analogy I have been using in comments, I’m sure there will be several theories of its history, but to allegorise the tie as, say, an enlarged symbolic penis, and hence its association with male potency, would IMO become a tiresome allegorisation – especially amongst those refusing to wear a tie because of this, in a workplace that requires it. Blessings.

      1. You’ve gone well round the bend, I dare say! 🙂

        I am dating the idea of the chasuble as a mini alb to the medieval period. I subscribe to less is more for both the evolution of vestments and the liturgy. Things started out simply, for simple reasons and folks accrued more elaborate meanings and more stately presentation and everything bulked up with meaningless, high calorie gingerbread.

        Aren’t you the one who tells the story of the Buddhist monastery and tieing up the cat to start the service?

  26. “The reason is not that evangelicals are defined by not being chasuble wearers but that evangelicals (some, at least) continue to wish to dress in a manner which they see in keeping with their theology and in distinction with other theologies present in our church.” – Dr. Peter Carrell –

    This discussion really does seem to be the sort of thing that must have happened at the time of the Oxford Movement renewal of catholic practice in the Church of England quite a long time ago.

    Does it have a particular relevance in ACANZP today? Well, maybe it still does, and I have to agree with Peter that the distinctive traditional dress of a priest presiding at the Eucharist in a formal church setting – certainly in my own tradition – is to wear an alb, stole and chasuble as presiding priest. Having been brought up in the catholic tradition; I can reveal that it is common practice at a High Mass, in most Provinces of the Anglican Communion, for the use of chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, by the presider, deacon and sub-deacon of the Mass – a tradition that I am glad to help survive in Anglicanism.

    Perhaps Sydney, which boasts a strictly evangelical provenance, is the epitome of such usage as cassock, surplice (no lace) and stole; (or even open necked short and jeans) that marks out classical Evangelical garb for the presiding ‘minister’ at The Lord’s Supper, has been the main influence in our pre-eminent Evangelical Diocese of Nelson in ACANZP.

    However, there are other Evangelicals in N.Z. – primarily those who studied at St. John’s College, Auckland, or in other mainstream Anglican Theological colleges in the Anglican Communion (not Bishopdale in Nelson, or Moore College in Sydney)- who have taken on board the sacramental significance of Eucharistic worship by their acceptance of Eucharistic vestments as worn in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities – in line with pre-Reformation usage.

    I suspect that the Archbishop of Canterbury has followed in the tradition of his illustrious predecessors by wearing the chasuble for the Eucharistic presidency, or the cope for other formal occasions of church worship.

    I remember once asking George Carey when he was in N.Z. before his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury, how he would manage the business of being expected to wear the traditional garments of his office after his enthronement. I remember his smile when he said: “I guess I’ll just have to cope”.

    Regarding other vesture, I notice that some who might gibe at the use of Eucharistic vestments are not averse to the advertisement of their academic status by wearing academic hoods for worship services. Now how does that compare with the relative importance of showing due respect for the object of our worship?

    Kalo Epiphania!

  27. I read in the Church Times that the motivation for this motion was just as suspected: embarrassment that some evangelical clergy regularly broke the canons on vesture, and that bishops were turning a blind eye to it. It was considered to be an act of housekeeping, to tidy away an unwanted, unenforced canon. Of course, Anglicans have a major history over vestments. I find it interesting how things have changed since the 19th-century imprisonment of Ritualists for breaches of canon law, to today’s evangelicals who regularly flout this and other laws.

  28. I suppose the secular equivalent to the arguments here would be Father Christmas dressed in mufti. The children, at least, would be outraged.

    However, I did once experience the sight, before midnight Mass in a certain N.Z Cathedral, of the Diocesan Bishop wearing a Santa hat and chasuble! Guess where!

    1. Hi Ron,
      I think your point works if there is some kind of equivalence between the eucharist and Santa Claus. I suggest more work to be done on Bosco’s reflections re jackets and suits for dinner parties – the eucharist, after all, is a meal. Some meals are more formal than others …

      I can’t imagine Santa Claus without the Santa Clause get up. I have been part of many fine eucharists in which the president has not been robed.

  29. Hi Bosco
    Re your “As I’ve suggested, I do not understand your approach to religion that is not applied like this in other places. What does the black of the All Blacks mean? What does the white of our cricketers mean? You wear a jacket to a formal meal, a suit when that is the norm. I do not see you asking what does your jacket mean? And then refusing to wear it because someone suggests it means something you don’t like or agree with. Or refusing to wear your jacket because if it has no meaning it doesn’t matter not wearing it.”

    I think, in the end, a possible improvement on what I am saying/attempting to say/confusedly saying, is to ask questions of ‘norm’ re liturgical vesture, including ‘what is the norm?’, ‘why is X/Y/Z the norm(s)?’, ‘who sets the norms?’ and ‘can the norms be changed?’ (and ‘by whom?’)

    In terms of your comment above, you will be aware that whites are now mostly only ‘normative’ for Test cricket and an array of colours is ‘normative’ for ODI and T20 matches. Of course for backyard cricket, no uniform at all is required. We seem to be in the midst of a change re ‘norms’ for formal/informal attire for things such as dinner parties. Ties appear to be on the way out (even in Britain one often sees David Cameron without a tie). One might also observe that a norm for (say) a beach BBQ might be different from a backyard BBQ – it would almost be odd to turn up in long trousers (as a male) to the former but quite acceptable for the latter.

    To liturgy: I am for a more positive embrace than I feel our church is currently offering, whether in its own rules, or in expectations being expressed (e.g. in comments on blog posts here there and everywhere!!) of new norms accompanying old norms for the increasing variety of services and contexts for those services.

    To pick up the language of the cited comment above, I suggest that our church retains rules and expectations that all eucharists are formal affairs for which (so to speak) formal jackets if not suits should be worn. What would be helpful is if rules and expectations both acknowledged that not all eucharists are such formal affairs and that even for formal affairs there might be appropriate attire which involves neither formal jackets or suits. (All the while, of course, with acknowledgement and support from me for those eucharists where jackets or even suits are worn, appropriately).

    1. I realised this morning what I take for granted the chasuble means, Peter, but have not articulated in this thread.

      It means, succinctly, this person is presiding at the Eucharist. It has done so for the majority of the church’s history, and for the majority of contemporary Christians.


      1. That’s all very well, Bosco, but for the majority of the church’s history and for the majority of contemporary Christians, the bishop of Rome has been the vicar of Christ on earth, homosexual activity has been seen as sinful, and the priesthood has been seen as an all-male affair. So, quite frankly, we need a better argument than ‘most of us have always done it this way’.

        1. I’m sorry, Tim – but I wasn’t arguing ‘most of us have always done it this way’ in that comment at all. I was explaining that the chasuble means this as part of being used in this manner. There is nothing intrinsic to the chasuble that explains that meaning – it holds that meaning through its usage. Receiving a medal or wearing a crown has the meaning of winning and royalty. They do so through their lengthy, wide usage.

          Just to allow your comment to distract – I do think that lengthy almost-universal Christian usage means we pause with respect before we abandon such without significant, prayerful reflection. All bishops are vicars of Christ in Christian tradition – including and formally in Roman Catholic doctrine. I think the three examples you give, care be taken before abandoning them. You are arguing in favour of the chasuble in formal Eucharists – and careful, thoughtful, prayerful reflection before its abandonment.


          1. Hi Bosco/Tim
            I was having a similar thought, Tim, re the papacy but you beat me to the comment.

            I would reiterate, Bosco, that if ‘usage’ is the determination at stake, then in a post-Christendom world, as the church works out its mission to post-Christian people, some careful reflection (and prayerful) should be taking place about whether the chasuble (in some, but not all contexts) has no ‘usage’ factor and thus is a block rather than an aid to worship.

            On the matter of dropping the chasuble after prayerful reflection, that is precisely what happened in the Church of England under Elizabeth 1 (notwithstanding what the rubric in the 1559 BCP said).

            One evangelical or ‘evangelical’ response to the reappearance of the chasuble within Anglican churches is that evangelicals/’evangelicals’ continue to prayerfully reflect that it is not right to re-introduce the chasuble. I think we would also like to ask on what grounds this strange and anachronistic garment has been re-introduced! Since we are agreed that majority usage is not an argument for its reintroduction, what is the argument for its reintroduction?

            (I say ‘reintroduction’ because when I go back 50-60 years to photos of my father being ordained, no chasubles are to be seen!)

  30. Thanks, Bosco. My sentiments entirely! I guess New Zealand is a very small context in which to try to fit the traditions of a global Church. It seems that some people are more ‘traditional’ about some things then others. For instance; the 39 Artifacts have become almost a necessity for some Anglicans; whereas some of us find this sort of thinking to be stultifying. Likewise, I suppose, for those for whom liturgical dress has never figured largely in their experience of worship. Context is so important.

    1. Hi Ron
      One point about the 39 Articles which (it would appear) needs constant reminding is that these are ‘our’ Anglican articles, they lie at the heart of the reformed and catholic Church of England to which you and I belong, and they remain in our own Anglican church a referenced part of what the ‘doctrine of Christ’ means as we undertake our teaching obligations as ordained ministers.

      Consequently, I suggest that the 39A have a little more importance (actually a great deal more importance) than your view above seems to offer.

      Further, in talking about the value of ancient traditions in the life of the church, it would be really helpful if you could set out your basis for affirming some such traditions (e.g. chasubles) and not others (e.g. adherence to the authority of the Bishop of Rome). Some kind of coherent and hopefully Anglican theological underpinning to picking and choosing from ancient traditions would be most helpful.

      For myself, one of the reasons I value the 39A is that they offer such an Anglican underpinning to the development of my theological understanding of Anglican faith and practice.

  31. “On the matter of dropping the chasuble after prayerful reflection, that is precisely what happened in the Church of England under Elizabeth 1 (notwithstanding what the rubric in the 1559 BCP said). – Dr. Peter Carrell –

    And, for Anglo-Catholics, from the Oxford Movement onwards, the Church of England (and many of her affiliates in other places) were pleased to resume the Catholic and Orthodox Traditions of the presiding priest vesting in a chasuble for presidency at the Mass, Eucharist or Holy Communion.

    For some non-Anglican graduates from St. John’s College in the 1970s, even wearing alb and stole was a novelty, seemingly appreciated by departing students (maybe excepting S.S. graduates). One might perhaps enquire of ex-St.john’s Methodist and Presbyterian graduates how they feel about wearing albs and stoles for the Lord’s Supper. Do they see them as inhibiting of evangelism?

  32. Thanks, Bro David for your link (above). Here, I think, is the essence of what is done in worship:

    “Yet it is also the vocation of every church – to draw on the riches of our heritage and share it such that we are also sharing something life-giving of the life of Christ.”

    There is nothing more life-giving than providing the Body and Blood of Christ in the daily offering of the Eucharist.

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