Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lent Blog 15: Perceptions

Over the last few days I seem to have had several conversations about what to wear. No, not a fashion conversation - these were about clerical garb. Anglican clergy vary greatly in their preferences, and we get away with a lot more inconsistency with our choices than most staff in organisations with dress codes. The problem with this is that it isn't always obvious what we should wear.

I remember debating with other chaplains whether we should wear dog collars regularly on campus or not. Some felt it was a barrier, although wearing 'plain clothes' then means you have to have some way of being identified as a chaplain. Others (and I was one) felt that being seen in the canteen / bar / corridors / staff room with a collar on was a way of indicating you were around and available, and hopefully accessible. In the end I varied it, as once I was recognised on campus it was sometimes helpful to be less formally dressed. I always wore a collar to other campuses in Cumbria, as it saved explanations.

You'd think it would be simpler when we are 'on duty' in church. The rules of the C of E state that all clergy should be robed when officiating at public worship in "surplice or alb with scarf or stole" (Canon B8) and "other customary vestments may be added". In practise, the choices made about robes generally say something about the theological views of the parish (or at least its ministers) I don't have any particular personal preferences and tend to fit in with whatever people are used to. Dressing up is never something I get excited about, whether in church or out, so I generally do whatever fits in. It's the uniform for the job.

It made me remember my first service at St Martin's College Chapel. As a parish priest I wore an alb (white tunic) and the one I have happens to have a hood, which is never used, but keeps my stole (coloured scarf) tidy. It's what I had always worn, so I wore it in chapel. At the end of the service, a number of students seemed puzzled and asked me what significance it had. None, I reassured them - I wasn't a monk! Then up came Pete - who was quite a comic - with a line he had obviously been developing during the worship. "Nice service, but what's with the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] outfit?"

What seems normal to us might seem very weird to other people.
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