Collaring Up for the Summer

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Why vestments at all?

"... There are two main reasons All Saints pastors wear any type of vestments. First, we do so to represent and symbolize the office or role that a pastor occupies while leading worship. Leading the liturgy, preaching, and presiding at Communion is not done in and of our own authority. We've been taught, trained, and tested, voted upon and finally approved by regional church leadership as leaders who can be trusted to preach the gospel, administer the Sacraments, and pastor God's people faithfully. Vestments are signs of that process and approval and are meant to communicate that we will take good care of people's souls.

They also help minimize any emphasis upon one particular pastor over another when someone is preaching or presiding. The most important part about who is standing before you on Sunday is not that it's me, or Greg, or Craig, or one of the Joshes, but that it's someone wearing a robe and a stole, who stands there as one authorized to stand in the place of Jesus in the midst of His people, speaking His Word and offering His body and blood.

Secondly, we wear vestments at All Saints to be hospitable to all people. Clothes and culture are inextricably related. What type of clothes you wear communicates the culture or sub-culture from which you come. If a pastor stands before a congregation in worship wearing the clothes of one particular group, it can unintentionally communicate to people who are not from that group that they have to leave their culture behind and adopt a new one in order to be a Christian or at least to be a Christian at that particular church.

But if the pastor wears clothes that no one else wears then you don't know what particular culture or sub-culture he most identifies with and that can subtly and subversively help welcome people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. It can also reinforce to everyone at that church that God intends for His people to be a diverse and multi-cultural people "from every tongue, tribe, and nation."

Why clergy collars particularly?

Now, beyond vestments in general, why collars in particular? Three quick answers to that question: one, there is historical precedent for Presbyterian pastors wearing clerical collars. According to my friend and fellow PCA pastor Dr. Tim Lecroy, American Presbyterian ministers were the first to wear them. In this article he explains how fashion, clerical attire, and history all combined for Presbyterians to first wear clerical collars, then for Roman Catholic priests to join us, and finally for us to quit wearing the collars.

Secondly, clerical collars serve to connect All Saints with a (huge!) part of the Church that our Presbyterian tradition has been long been divided from but those whom we at All Saints borrow from for a more robust sacramental theology and liturgical expression. It is the luxury of largely "Christianized" cultures to minutely differentiate between various Christian traditions. But in an increasingly secular culture fewer and fewer people (especially non-Christians!) distinguish the secondary and tertiary differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants and between the various strands within Protestantism. In a secular, pluralistic culture the greatest difference is not between Roman Catholics and Baptists or Presbyterians and Charismatics, but between those who affirm the Apostles Creed and those who do not.

A few weeks ago during a sermon I mentioned five values that largely explain All Saints. The first was that we, as a church, are seeking to reclaim some ancient and historic Christian practices that our tradition unnecessarily jettisoned generations ago but are in need of rediscovering now. Clerical collars are a small expression of that value.

The third and final reason for wearing collars is that they give us another "tool" in our vestment "tool belt." Wearing them without robes and stoles maintains the symbolic representation of the pastoral office in a more casual form. Wearing them with robes and stoles (on holy days like Easter and Christmas Eve or during weddings and funerals) presents a more formal look appropriate for more formal occasions. And wearing collars at times (not always - we'll go back to wearing ties this fall) in worship allows for us as pastors to wear them at appropriate times outside of worship, like when visiting the sick in the hospital or visiting someone in their home who is close to death. Wearing something outside of worship that's worn primarily in worship helps connect those individual moments of ministry to everything that the Lord does among us when we are gathered together.

And that's a primary goal for God in and for all things - arguably the goal for everything the Lord has done in creation and redemption - to connect or "unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth." (Eph. 1:10) Clerical collars, in a very small and simple way, hopefully do that - make connections for us to everything and everyone the Lord has already united us.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this or any other aspect of our church's worship or work. And please join us this Sunday and this summer for worship.

Peace, in Christ,

Tim