Robes and Clergy

A former student and fellow-writer recently wrote a blog entry called “pomp and priesthood” describing how upset she was at an Anglican procession… the extravagance of the robes and costumes seemed alien to the Jesus of the gospels. She thought it repulsive and self-indulgent and could feel herself “so distracted by the colour and the pomp that I do not see the person.”

Oddly, my take on robes is exactly the opposite. My friend wrote: “Robe us all up, or none of us,” well, my understanding of robes from my Lutheranism is that’s symbolically exactly what is going on. A pastor wears a robe to say: I am not here as George, I am here in my office as a spokesperson of the congregation before God and announcing the words of God to the congregation. I do this not because George is worthy, but because I was called to this office thus I don the robes that every pastor dons to erase the distinctions of me and my clothes and my tastes and my jewellery… I’m not here as me.

I was taught that the main part of the outfit is form-fitting black, representing human fallen nature, with just a hint of white peeking through in the collar to represent that originally, under all that, we were created in God’s image. But over it all is a much more loosely-fitting white garment that represents our new nature and salvation in Christ, which has nothing to do with my own shape or efforts, but rather to do with his free gift covering us all. (Over that, often, a scarf-like cloth in a colour that has to do with the season in the liturgical year.)

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, or maybe Anglicanism is different, but I always thought the very idea was that in my pastor’s robes, we all were robed and represented, and that the clergy wore robes to play down themselves as individuals rather than to celebrate themselves.