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The Preacher’s Clothes

This time of year is my favorite, not the least of which because of the sports seasons. As football begins, baseball is wrapping up; so I have the opportunity to catch the excitement of a new season and the drama of a championship race.

Flipping between channels, I’ve been reflecting about other contrasts between the sports. For instance, have you ever paid attention to what the coaches are wearing? In football, most men wear some kind of wind breaker with their team logo. In baseball, however, the coaches wear the same uniform as the players. Can you imagine if a football coach suited up in pads?

Historically, baseball coaches were also players, so it made sense for them to dress in the same fashion. But this dynamic is no longer true: there is not a single manager who is likewise an active player. And yet, the tradition continues, even though some managers look ridiculous!

This caused me to re-consider how I dress for Sunday morning. I wear a long, black gown called an academic robe. This is the practice of my tradition and does have the effect of setting me apart from the rest of the congregation, which was historically the point. My clothing signifies that I have a certain training and therefore a unique role in worship. Some denominations bristle at such a notion. I grew up in the Moravian Church where, recently, my father tried to convince the board to authorize the clergy to wear robes in worship. They balked, namely because they didn’t want to project any difference between the pulpit and the pew. Looking at their pastor in his or her suit, they wanted to be reminded that we are all one because we are clothed in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

This is a valid point, of course, and I do appreciate the idea of the priesthood of all believers. And yet, from a practical standpoint, there is a difference. Each Sunday, I stand in front of the congregation and they look at me and listen to what I have to say. (At least, this is what happens in theory!)

What I appreciate about my long, black robe is that it offers consistency. Like my father, I have more than one suit to wear on Sunday; yet, as a regular worshipper, you would not suspect any change. Week in and week out, you would see me in the same clothing that is the same color. The advantage of this is that, first of all, you wouldn’t be distracted, either by my exceptional or poor taste:

“Wow, our pastor dresses nicely. We must pay him really well.”
“Can you believe that she wore that to preach in?”

These two comments, both of which I overheard very recently, make it clear that we make judgments based upon appearances. Not only are these observations specific to gender, but they lead to other implications, sometimes quite negative. We project values and judgments on others based in part on their physical appearances. While we do not draw the same conclusions (some of which are far more problematic than others), we can all agree that such projections distract from hearing the Gospel message.

So, yes, I believe I will keep wearing my academic robe. While it is good to think critically about tradition, sometimes a certain uniformity is good, maybe even holy.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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