Today is Ash Wednesday, and I spent the day in my uniform.
I have been a Methodist minister for the past 30 years. And I very seldom dress in official clergy garb. When I first began this ministry, I had no wish to be like the senior ministers in this church: they dressed in black, and many wore their clerical collars permanently. They did not connect with the rock music culture that shaped me - a culture of blue jeans, t-shirts and informality. I wanted to be the kind of minister who was approachable; one who young people could talk to; one who stood alongside people who were marginalised by the formality and the rigidity of the “professional clergyman.”
Later in my ministry I found myself amongst poor, working-class people. These were people who worked under supervisors and foremen in factories and on shop floors. They translated this into their church life and wanted me to be their religious “boss” / supervisor / foreman. And I resisted this by refusing to dress in a way that reinforced the power of the clergy. For the ten years that I was their minister, I never once dressed in any clerical uniform. I wanted to underline the fact that that we were a team of people – each bringing different gifts and abilities to serve the common good, but no one more powerful than any other.
And so I have spent most of my life dressing down, dressing like my congregation, dressing in ways that speak of being a team rather than emphasising status. But I am gradually discovering space for “Clergy Clothes”: there are moments when it is necessary to be clearly identified as clergy – like when I officiate at a funeral of people who are strangers to me and my church… it simplifies matters when the mourners can immediately identify who the minister is. There have also been other moments – such as walking into a busy city hospital, or participating in a political protest – when being instantly recognisable has been useful.
I am now finding it helpful to dress as a clergyperson for sacramental moments: Baptism and Holy Communion are becoming increasingly strange to the society we live in. People in my congregation are no longer schooled in my church tradition. Many have come from little or no church tradition at all. So I need to find ways of indicating moments of special significance. It is therefore helpful to put on a uniform to indicate to those who come to church that this is a special event.
Today I wore clergy uniform…..Because it is Ash Wednesday.
And I wanted to mark this as a significant day in our Christian journey.
Perhaps I will wear my clergy shirt tomorrow as well - to mark this journey of Lent.
...... I will let you know.