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What's the deal with Robes

One of our Sunday school classes wondered what was the deal with the robes that pastors wear. Some wear a black one. Some wear a white one. Some don't wear them at all. Do they mean anything? Yes and they mean different things.

Way back in the beginning everyone wore robes. Tshirts, button downs, leggings, dresses, shorts, slacks - none of them existed. We know most about ancient fashion from our nativity scenes. We see all the characters wearing robes. Shepherds wore pretty simple stuff. The Kings were much fancier ones. You can read more here ( You had an undergarment, tunic and folks with more money may wear something over that. We read throughout the New Testament of putting on Christ. Wearing a white tunic or alb was what someone wore at their baptism and then was the symbol that they were a baptized member of the community. As we move on throughout history, anyone serving during worship (clergy & laity) would all wear a white robe, that they were putting on Christ and were serving. An ordained elder wears the white alb and put a stole over their shoulders, a symbol of being yoked to the church. An ordained deacon wears the white alb with a diagonal stole, a symbol of service.

Beginning in the reformation, protestant clergy chose to wear black robes as a rejection of formal/fanciful rituals & dress of the Catholic Church. These black robes were similar to the robes that academics wore. John Wesley wore a black robe as a way of taking the attention off of him and redirecting it to God. He preached several sermons about the need to put less focus on what we (and others) wore and more attention on things that really mattered. Over time clergy began becoming more educated with bachelor degrees and later, masters degrees being the foundation for their ministry.

After Vatican II and the work to build ecumenical relationships between all protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic church, clergy began to discuss why they wore a particular vestment (fancy word for the clothing of the church). Those who articulated that their calling and identity as a clergy person came from their education traditionally wore the black preaching robe with a stole. Those who articulated the foundation of their calling in their baptism wore the white alb with a stole. Some just chose to wear what was traditional where they were or what they saw others wear.

I know that at Faith you've had pastors who have worn both. I choose to wear the white alb, first because my ministry & call came through my baptism. Secondly, I wear it because there is nothing that makes me better than any person that I work with and everyone baptized in the church may wear the alb. We are all called to ministry. We all have a vocation, for some of us teacher, engineer, chemist, welder, athlete, law enforcement, pastor and doctor are just a few of the vocations we have in the Golden Triangle. As baptized Christians, wherever we are using our God given talent is our ministry location. I wear a stole with my alb as the symbol that I am yoked to the Christ in service to the church. I choose not to wear the black academic robe because, while I value my education, it is a tool that I use and not the foundation for my work.

If you have more questions, ask - we can learn together.

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