Dressed To Profess!
By Dr. Debora C. Hooper, www.deborahooper.com
So, like a bona fide preacher preparing for a ministry visit, you've prayed, studied, gotten your sermon together and now you're ready to go fulfill your ministry assignment. With everything set to go, the only thing left to figure out is what to wear. Unfortunately for a minister, sometimes this can be just as difficult as knowing what to preach. In our last issue, I briefly highlighted a few things about ministry garments. However, because what you wear is just as important as what you say, I'd like to expand my thoughts on the protocol for clergy attire.
The attire for clergy was established personally by God for the purpose of ministering to Him during worship services. Its beginning dates back to the era of the Levitical Priesthood found in the Old Testament (Ex. 28:2-4, Lev. 8:7). Unlike regular clothing, the priest garments are holy garments; worn in a holy place and by a holy person (Ex. 28:2). The official name for these garments as a whole is ecclesiastical or liturgical vestments and depending upon a minister's office, rank, denomination, or specific function, the vestments vary in color and style. One of the most common vestments is the priestly robe. This long flowing garment can be either in the style of a cassock or a pulpit gown. While both robes loosely cover the body from neck to foot (to avoid the flesh from being glorified and to quickly identify the minister), the cassock normally has 33 buttons down the front (said to represent Jesus' 33 years on earth) and one pleat in the lower back for the male minister and three pleats for the female minister. The pulpit gown differs in style in that it has panels down both sides of the front (and perhaps at least 2 or 3 panels or "bars" on both sleeves indicating a theological degree), and close with a zipper.
It is important to say here that those ministers who wear these particular liturgical vestments are universally recognized as ordained ministers or as some ecclesiastical circles say, official clergy. In addition, although these robes come in different colors, and should be tailored for glory and beauty (Ex. 28:2), every minister should definitely have both a simple and plain white robe and black robe (with matching shoes and hose) in their wardrobe to be prepared for their frequent use.
For times when an ordained minister need not be fully adorned in a robe, another type of liturgical vestment is worn. This vestment, which can also be worn by licensed ministers, is called civic attire. Because there is a difference in rank between the two ministers, there is a slight difference in dress. For ordained ministers, the civic attire includes an unornamented conservative black suit, with a black clergy shirt and a full neck band clergy collar. For licensed ministers, it includes an unornamented conservative black suit, with a black clergy shirt but with a tab clergy collar. Both civic attires are worn with conservative black shoes and hose. Another important note is that in some denominations and churches, both men and women ministers wear civic attire, and in others only males. Lastly, like robes, clergy shirts come in various colors, and should be worn accordingly with one's office and rank. For example, in many denominations and reformations, a purple, red, or magenta clergy shirt is reserved for Bishops only and distinguishes them among other clergy. (A Bishop is a pastor or overseer of senior pastors.) To wear a color or vestment that is not one's office or rank, can be offensive and show one's ignorance to protocol. As always, "know before you go" and don't be afraid to seek pastoral wisdom for advice.
Thankfully, not all church services call for a specific liturgical vestment, especially if they are held outdoors and during informal occasions. In these cases, all ministers have the option of wearing a business suit, preaching dress or a nice casual outfit, but the selection of what type should still be conservative. (A conservative dress code, including jewelry, helps to keep the audience's attention upon the Word, instead of the appearance of the minister; in addition, this look is widely acceptable when crossing cultural or denominational lines.) Speaking of preaching dresses, whenever I can't wear a robe or civic attire, I usually opt for this alternative. If you decide to wear one, consider a black one that is long (tea length), long-sleeved, has a high cut collar and comes in trans-seasonal fabric to give you more use. Of course, wear a slip and make sure everything underneath is tight! Moreover, as your ministry expands, build your closet with clothes to be used strictly for ministry, this way you will always be prepared for any ministry assignment. In addition, if you follow my advice, you'll be glad you invested in these "ministry garments" when you're not wearing a robe or civic attire. For one, they will free you from being concerned about whether your expensive clothing is going to sweat through or rip while ministering and second, you will find that you can concentrate much better on your ministry assignment without having to worry about the length of your skirt or the label on your suit. Selah.
While there are other garments that are layered over the cassock and pulpit gown, such as the surplice, stole, alb, and cincture, to name a few, these vestments are usually reserved for official occasions and for specific ministers. Nevertheless, every minister who properly adorns themselves with the liturgical vestments noted above will not only be adequately prepared to profess a Message but present themselves as a professional. So ladies, let's show the world that we are ready, willing, and able, to do "the work of the ministry" by wearing our "work clothes" to work. See you in the vineyard!
Excerpts of this article have been taken from Hooper's Evangelist & Minister's Handbook.