by Richard on June 21, 2010

This argument has nothing to do with me, but…

1. Can we please stop using -gate at the end of controversies? It’s really irritating. (The only exception I’ll make is if something leaks from Microsoft. ‘Gatesgate’ would be fun)

2. If you’re getting worked up about the sort of hat someone wears (or doesn’t wear), you know you have your priorities wrong.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 06.21.10 at 3:16 pm

Unless it’s a Yankee cap.


Tim Chesterton 06.21.10 at 4:11 pm

Thank God for some Methodist common sense! As an Anglican I’m sick and tired of people getting all worked up about this (I’ve gone on a rant about it here.


Sally 06.21.10 at 4:34 pm

I have a cycle helmet… does that count?


Richard 06.21.10 at 4:45 pm

As long as you only wear it when cycling, Sally!

Nice post, Tim.

I’d forgotten you have a problem with caps Kim.


Kim 06.21.10 at 5:37 pm

Here is a thought experiment. If in the Methodist Church a local preacher were to wear a dog collar, would it pass unnoticed? Or would not the circuit ministers raise an almighty stink about it? Just asking. Quite apart from the dog collar running the mitre a close second as another ridiculous item of clerical apparel - particularly when worn with “fashionable” coloured shirts (as if to say, “I know this looks silly, but at least the pink is pretty”). Not to mention that I have have yet to hear an argument for wearing them that isn’t bollocks on roller skates - e.g., “It helps to get me into hospitals”, or “It’s a good conversation starter about religion when I’m sitting next to some bloke on the train”, or “It’s wonderfully symbolic of the fact that I’m a slave of Christ.” In short, I think that some serious dismounting from some very high horses needs to be done by some folk before they wax ridiculous on the ridiculous. I must admit, however, that I am all in favour of wearing clerical codpieces.


Tim Chesterton 06.21.10 at 6:37 pm

I’m with you on the dog collars, Kim - I wear mine as little as I can get away with and look forward to the day when they’ll be gone forever.


Kim 06.21.10 at 7:42 pm

Btw, Tim, I too (with Richard) enjoyed your post.

And I feel a clerihew coming on:

Bishop Rowan
Is going
To get the terrible reputation of a smiter
Over a silly disputation about a mitre.


Tim Chesterton 06.21.10 at 8:17 pm

Nice one, Kim.

Thanks for your kind words about my rant, guys.


Pam 06.22.10 at 5:34 am

For men who wear frocks, and follow an invisible master, the purple headgear is entirely appropriate.


Kim 06.22.10 at 8:21 am

A historical note:

Not for 750ish years did Christian clergy wear fancy clothes and hats, either in the streets or at worship; they dressed as ordinary folk dressed. Indeed, when they did start to ape their pagan priestly counterparts and/or imperial officials, on-the-ball church leaders criticised the vogue.

Defenders of clerical dress talk of its symbolism. I agree with them - but their interpretation of the symbolism is special pleading. What we have here, folks, is sartorial Constantinianism, the power-and-authority fashion of the gentiles. And, seriously, it might be a compelling public witness to gather all our churchly garb together and have an auto-da-fé, or, even better, to invite the public to cast lots (i.e. have a raffle) for the prize threads to raise money for the poor, while the officiants wear sackcloth.


Richard 06.22.10 at 9:16 am

I don’t quite agree with you Kim. On clerical collars — yes, they’re faintly ridiculous. But it’s a badge, nothing more. No need for excitement. Clerical garb? I tend to be fairly casual these days, though I occasionally wear a cassock and ‘preaching bands’ or maybe the preaching scarf that folk in Sketty were kind enough to give me. It’s certainly clothing I wouldn’t wear anywhere else, but then when I’m at worship I’m taking part in a unique activity. (Truthfully, I rather regret the giving up of ‘Sunday best’ by congregations for similar reasons) But where would you draw the line on this? Is any ‘clerical’ dress allowed? Some preachers go in for garments derived not from the academic world? Is that OK — and if so, why?


Pam 06.22.10 at 9:29 am

I agree about the sackcloth. But how much would it cost per mitre - I mean metre?


Kim 06.22.10 at 11:01 am

I’ll come clean:
During the week I dress “normally”, though I cut my cloth (as it were) according to the occasion. I’m in jeans and a shirt/jumper as often as I can be - and this time of the year in shorts; but I will put on a nice pair of slacks, shirt & tie, and a jacket if, e.g., I am seeing a family about a funeral, or taking a Church Meeting, or visiting the elegant Mrs. X who would otherwise think I was a slob.
At worship I preside wearing a suit and a black Genevan preaching gown, because it was given to me as a gift by the widow of a URC minister who wore it and who died just before I came to Bethel (the principle of courtesy trumping the principle of simplicity). Actually, Richard, I can see the point of wearing something “special” when presiding at the “unique” event of worship. I also agree that people who come to worship should wear clothes that don’t dis God - one shoul be “tidy”, as they say in Wales - so ideally they should be bought at Lord & Taylor. :)


John Meunier 06.22.10 at 1:08 pm

sartorial Constantinianism

A new favorite phrase for me.


Tony Buglass 06.22.10 at 5:27 pm

The clerical collar is a badge. And it can be very important in contexts such as hospital visiting - not about convenience, but about identity. There are about 40 different people who have the right to stand at your bedside when you’re ill, had your clothes taken away, and feel very vulnerable, and all of them have badges or uniforms of some sort. If I turn up in a collar and tie, perhaps with a name badge, I’m not actually helping the patient. If I turn up in a collar, it is perfectly clear who I am and why I’m there.

When I was a student, and we did our hospital chaplaincy training, some of the students refused to wear the collar on the grounds that we weren’t yet chaplains. One of them took that stance through the term, but for his last visit he wore a collar to see what difference it made. He said afterwards he wished he’d worn it from the very start - it bridged the gap between him and the patient much more quickly.

I also know of times when the collar has been an obstacle, and has reinforced unfortunate religious stereotypes, but I reckon the benefits outweigh the disadvantages - it really comes down the personality of the wearer.

The issue of the mitre has other overtones. It was simply disrespect to the leader of a sister church. Yes there are disagreements between them, and the evangelicals and catholics in the CofE don’t like her - well, tough. She is the leader of the US branch of the family, whether they like it or not. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about the RCs, but I wouldn’t disrespect the Pope. No more would I disrespect Rowan. I would hope for reciprocal respect for those who are leaders in my church. It’s common courtesy, nothing more.


Kim 06.23.10 at 10:09 am

I can see the point of wearing a dog collar as a “badge” if you are a chaplain. (It might be particularly useful for a military chaplain - unless your parish is in Afghanistan, in which case, I should imagine, it betokens a target as well as an office. Needless to say, as a Christological pacifist I think that a Christian military chaplain is as oxymoronic as military intelligence - unless your work leads to spending most of your time in the military prison, where a badge is hardly necessary.)

However, perhaps one should ask, with Stephen Pattison ( in his essay “Dumbing Down the Spirit” in The Challenge of Practical Theology [2007]), exactly what patients and staff take the badge of a hospital chaplain to be a badge of. And the answer, in contemporary British hospitals, is probably that it announces that you are a broker of “spirituality”, a “professional” who can help to identify and meet “spiritual” needs analgous to the way that the medical professionals identify and meet physical needs. That is certainly the expectation of NHS hospital management. And, by and large, Christian clergy join the hospital chaplaincy team and deliver what it says in “mission statement”, trying to be all things to all people in the most theologically insipid sort of way. Of course this theological captivity to the babel of generic spirituality need not be the case. Which is where not only the personality but also the theology of the wearer of the badge kicks in - ideally in his/her ass, such that the dog collar announces a potentially awkward, even dangerous, character as well as an available one.

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