I’ve looked a little at how ministers appear as they do in the past, mainly to do with age. However I came across this today, which speaks of being dressed in a cassock and the the effect it had on the wearer. Also the fact that it is seen as a uniform, which is very much the reason I wear it, and that’s the answer to the question. Which is sometimes asked, and mainly when I’m ether wearing a clerical shirt and collar or in vestments. So I thought I’d put together some answers. Firstly however I’ll say that there is no required dress code for British Methodist Presbyters – however British Methodist Deacons being part of a religious order do have a uniform. However there is still the question of what to wear when “working”.
Why I tend to wear a clerical shirt and collar
Part of the ministers role is a public representative one; this means often being a public face on behalf of a local congregation or the wider church. And even today most people seem to recognise a clerical shirt and collar. So at the student lunch, or the church Coffee Morning I’ll wear it so folks can pick me out with ease. This also comes in useful when I’m around different parts of the circuit, people will see the collar and see a minister, and this can be the start of many conversations, a chance to reach out. So the shirt and collar to me is a uniform, something that signals to people what I am, and at times let them see the role rather than the person – much as with shop staff in uniform so you can spot them; a police man or a doctor in white coat.
Why I tend to wear vestments
So when leading services I can be seen at times wearing a black cassock, with white preaching bands, and sometimes a stole on.
So first the cassock, this was originally an overcoat, worn to cover up the every day clothes, and was till not that long ago standard outdoor wear for some clergy. I tend to wear a cassock to remind me that when leading worship I’m doing something out of the ordinary – and also to cover up the clothes I’m wearing be it smart or not. Also this presents a plain black image, so as not to distract with what I’m wearing. As one person put it, “It’s just a fancy boiler suit” and for me it is. It is something I put on to remind me of what I’m doing.
The preaching bands – the two strips of white cloth that hang down from my neck – are an extension of the clerical collar, and in part related to the neck tie. I tend to wear this as one would wear tie, to finish the outfit off. Also it is part of the traditional dress of Wesleyan Methodist Ministers, and acts as an expression of me placing my self within this traditions.
Finally the stole – the scarf like item – is one of the traditional symbols of ordination, and something shared with the wider church. This tends to be why I mainly wear it when leading sacramental service (Baptism and a the Lord’s Supper), or other special services (high days, weddings and funerals and so forth). Also the colour relates to the season of the year;
- White for celebration – Christmas and Easter
- Purple for penitence – Advent and Lent
- Red for the Holy Spirit – Pentecost and times of renewal
- Green for the rest of the time.
So part of why I dress as I do is to express a link with the wider church, and with the church tradition of which I’m a part. However there are also practical considerations, in not distracting and appearing in a respectable manner. Though as said, there is no right or wrong way for a Methodists minister to dress, and the verity of clothing that can be seen on ministers is as varied as the ministers.
If you would like further history of how some Methodist ministers have dressed; then Norman Wallwork’s “Blackbirds and Budgerigars” might be of interest.