Is it time the clergy had a ‘uniform’ revamp – the Scouts did and it worked!

Clergyman in his vestments.

I have on a number of occasions heard people comment on the clergy vestments (including Bishops and Archbishops) – things like:

  • “Whatever does he look like.”
  • “Nice frock!”
  • What has he got on his head?”
  • “I can’t imagine Jesus wearing that!”

Should a Minister of Religion have a uniform?

Is it good for a minister to wear a ‘uniform’ that is instantly recognisable by the general public?

I think that the general public would answer ‘yes’. A good argument for this is put forward by Ken Collins [i].

But the use of a clerical collar, or similar is sufficient for this purpose.
Vestments go beyond this primary goal.

What is the history behind the vestments?

The website ‘Academic Apparel’ gives a good potted history:

Early Christianity:
The first four centuries of Christianity did not involve a special robe, tunic, vestment or other garb for members of the clergy… Over time clergy vestments became richer and made of costlier materials, and beauty played a larger role in church garments.

Academic Apparel [ii]

Medieval Era:
Rise of the surplice (white, sleeved, blouse-like shirt with lace trim) worn over a cassock (plain black, long-sleeved, ankle-length tunic) as the official clergy garment.”

Academic Apparel [ii]

A new style of pulpit wear took hold during the Reformation era, called the Geneva style.
This style, still in use today, was based on Academic Regalia for doctoral graduates…
rather than the secular fashion of the day.
It is at this time that the four basic types of gowns were established which remain today:
clergy robes, choir gowns, academic robes, and judicial robes.”

Academic Apparel [ii]
Surplice Of Canon Of 12th & 13th Century.
Surplice Of Canon Of 12th & 13th Century [iii]

From this we can see two important points:

  • For four centuries there wasn’t any special ‘uniform’ for members of the clergy. They wore the same clothes as the general public.
  • A ‘uniform’ based on academic qualifications was introduced.

(For further reading on academic qualifications of Church leaders see: Church leadership problems – choosing authentic leaders )

What did Jesus and his early followers wear?

Below is a quote which I personally do not agree with:

In many places, people walked up to Jesus out of the blue, addressed Him as ‘teacher,’ which the New Testament informs us is the translation of the word ‘rabbi’…
The only explanation is that they knew by the way He was dressed.
When they addressed Him as a rabbi, He must have been dressed like a rabbi.”

Ken Collins [i]

I think the only conclusion is that they observed Jesus teaching with authority and therefore they called Him Teacher ‘Rabbi’.
Also as we have already seen, that ‘for four centuries there wasn’t any special ‘uniform’ for members of the clergy.’

Are the clergy vestments culturally relevant?

I am of the opinion that ‘frills’ and ‘frocks’ put the clergy into a irrelevant place and out of touch with the general Public.

What do you think?

[i] Why Clergy Should Wear Clericals (Opens in a new window)
[ii] History of Choir Robes (Opens in a new window)
[iii] The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection. “Surplice Of Canon Of 12th & 13th Century.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1858 – 1875. (Opens in a new window).

By Peter Reason

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