Tuesday, July 17, 2012

To robe? Or not to robe?

When I first started in professional ministry a few years ago, I was given the task in my home church of directing the children's choir program.  We had three choirs at the time, and they most often sang in the traditional services because that was a simpler fit for them.  Just before I was hired on staff, post-college, the choirs had fundraised and purchased brand-new robes for the entire worship ministry; matching robes for the adult choirs, bell choirs, and children's ensembles.

One Sunday morning the 1st - 3rd grade children's choir was gathering to sing, with the parents helping me to get them robed-up and ready to praise.  In the midst of this action, I had this conversation, with a snarky (and hilarious) 2nd grade boy:
"Mr. Jarrod, why do you got us wearing these dresses?"

"Jake, it's not a dress.  These are robes."

Jake raises his hand and looks at the other kids, "Who here thinks that these are dresses?"
I had no answer to that!  But it did raise some interesting questions in my mind that I still have years later.  We just entered into a more casual summer-time dress code, with no clergy, worship leadership, or choir robes.  It's Dallas, and super hot right now.  We'd have people passing out in the loft if we kept the robes on.  But what's interesting from my perspective is that when we ditch the robes, I have to dress up more than I normally would ... When leading the contemporary service, I usually wear jeans and a t-shirt.  I then throw on the robe to direct the choir at the traditional service.  No dice during the summer.  It's slacks, a button-up shirt with my guitar, add in a tie and blazer for the traditional service.

So, I'm not critical of wearing robes; I even like them.

The question I have is this, though: Do robes create a barrier between worship leadership and the people?

Maybe it's a necessary one at times.  What we wear in worship can set a tone ... Two years ago, at the church I served in Slidell, LA, we offered a U2charist Worship Service.  It was a service of Word and Table.  My senior pastor wore jeans and a nice shirt for most of the service, but when it came time to preside over the sacrament, he put his stole on in front of us.  It was a powerful image that gave me goosebumps.  But it didn't make a show of the pastor being special; it brought real weight to the work he was about to do, for us, in communion with the Trinity.

As a younger minister in a more traditional context, I've found that what I wear with whom I'm working with really matters.  With youth, it's shorts and flip-flops, with adults slacks and a polo.  Both achieve a different kind of respect depending on the context.  It's silly to me ... but apparently, what we wear in ministry really matters ... to people.

What do we think about church dress codes?  What do they say about our faith communities?  Do they help or hinder the work of the people?