Vestments: it’s not about me

Matthew Gatheringwater:

If your vestments were atavistic 145 years ago, what does that make them now?

Timeless and uniform. I think Theodore Parker got enough things wrong for me not to worry about what he thought. Of course, the same can be said about the following. We take our parts in turn.

In the low churches, with their emphasis on the individual and local, it isn’t rare for ministers to develop an unhealthy level of prominence. How many televangelists, with eponymous ministries, can you think of? And how often, whether by tone or design, can you tell that the ministry is really about the minister? Pretty often, I’d think. In our own way, Unitarians and Universalists have done that, though today the trace of that is much thinner, but are capable of falling into it. Take Parker or Patton for instance.

Uniform vesture — not just clerical garb of an individualist confection — is a tool that mitigates against misplaced self-pride and affirms the unity of the ministerial college. Though I think “community” has become an overcorrective fetish in Unitarian Universalist circles, the notion that “the ministry is not about the minister” and “all ministry is interim” is about on target.

Rarely is a particular pastor the first and last one in a church. We do our part for the Gospel — why else do we spend so much time as Unitarian Universalist talking about the “good news” and yet never quite get to the content of it; a bad omen there — and pass away.

The ministry isn’t about any one of us, even as it isn’t confined to the ranks of the ordained, and customary, uniform(-ish) vesture is a lively sign of it.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “Vestments: it’s not about me”

  1. Scott,

    All the time I’ve been reading Boy in the Bands, I thought they were a joke, what with the funny title and all. I didn’t realize that you were actually serious about this stuff. Please excuse my attempt at humor; I wanted to share a joke, not ridicule you. And thanks for answering my questions. I don’t know much about clerical vestments and would like to learn, even if I would not choose to wear them myself.

    I can see the value of your argument concerning uniform vesture and I agree that ministry is not primarily about the minister. Wouldn’t your argument work better, however, if it related to a pre-existing uniform vesture among Unitarian Universalist ministers? By adopting a style of vesture that is uncommon if not singular among Unitarian Universalist ministers, aren’t you in fact emphasizing your distinctness, rather than your uniformity?

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