What do you wear to church? Are you a suit and tie, a blazer and slacks, or a jumper and Levis man? Are you a smart dress, a casual skirt, or a nice trousers woman? Shoes or trainers? Heels or flats? Hats used to be de rigueur for women in Wales, while one of my elders once wanted to tell a visiting teenager to remove his baseball cap (I stopped him - though if it had been a Yankee cap I would have chucked the lad out myself!). Do you dress up or down? Do you do it for yourself, for the congregation, for the minister, for God? Are you being considerate, respectful, stylish, or merely vain?
And here’s a thought. Might our church dress code even imply a sartorial theology? Do dresser-uppers think of God as the Holy One in an evening suit to whom they must bow in due reverence? Do dresser-downers think of God as a Dad with whom they can relax? Do greys suggest a dour deity, bright colours a dancing deity? Perhaps coming in “filthy rags” would suggest a sola gratia God.
And me? To be honest, I wear a suit because, when I started my ministry, I presumed it was expected of me. For a while I wore a dog collar, but my wife Angie wore me down with her mocking laughter - “It just isn’t you!”; now it’s just a tie around my neck (though always 100% silk!). I wear a gown - because it was given to me by someone special. It’s a black Genevan gown, so it also links me with my Reformed tradition, with its emphasis on the minister as preacher and teacher. It’s also useful for concealing an unironed shirt - and it looks great with a tan! On the other hand, if I suffered from dandruff . . .
As you can see, the reasons and motives behind what we wear to church are complex. We can certainly read too much into them. And, of course, God is not interested in what we wear as such, in the fashion statements we make, in the images of ourselves that our clothes project, which (as an editor of Vogue once proudly confessed) are more about illusions than truth. God looks into your heart, not your wardrobe.
Yet our Lord himself wore threads that some soldiers thought worth gambling for. And what Rowan Williams once said to a group of primary school children about his own elaborate liturgical gear may strike a chord (or a corduroy!): we should think of worship as going to a party, and when you go to a party you dress differently (Rowan adding that clerical dress is hardly more bizarre than the outfits you see Saturday night clubbers wearing).
For me that’s the bottom (hem)line: God is different, special, so however we normally dress, perhaps we should dress differently for church - up or down, but special. On the other hand, if you come as you are, that’s cool: there are no dress police patrolling the temple entrance.
Anyway, I’m off to an Anglican induction service, where, on behalf of the United Reformed Church, I’ll be giving the right hand of fellowship and welcome to the new vicar. I was told I could “robe”, but there’ll be enough folk there in fancy dress, so I’ll just be jacket-and-tying it - and stepping out in a new pair of shoes!