August 23, 2010

robed authority

I was blessed to officiate the wedding of my friends recently.  And up until five minutes before the wedding, I couldn't decide if I would wear my robe or not.

You see, I had packed the robe.  And I was most assuredly wearing the stole.  But the robe was an additional layer of formality, of tradition, of authority... that I wasn't quite sure I wanted to assume at the time.

There is this great debate it seems among pastors about whether we should robe or not.  As a woman, I have often argued that wearing a robe keeps people from being distracted by what we are wearing.  It adds some authority simply by the fact that you are wearing something different from what everyone else is wearing.

But that in itself is also a reason to discard the robe when you are trying to be in ministry with people. It is a barrier between you and everyone else. It makes you distinct. Which in certain circumstances actually helps to conveys your authority and then I'm back to wearing the robe.

This was the inner dialogue I was having about ten minutes before the wedding - which ended when a family member said he was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that I was one of the college friends and yet also had authority to do the wedding... I put on the robe.  The authority and not the college student was the only image left to put out there... which of course also meant that when the ceremony was finished and the robe got put away, I felt more than comfortable dancing to "Love Shack" with everyone else.

You know how lawyers in England still wear fancy wigs when they are doing their official business in the courtroom?  It's a trapping of tradition and old sentimentality... and yet it also marks what they are doing as important.  It sets that part of their life aside as distinct from the rest of their work and play.

I know that I allow myself to become something more... something different when that stole is draped over my shoulders. I read scripture in a different way.  I preach and the words become more than what they were an hour before as I was practicing them at home.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Colossians 3:12-14
Putting on the stole and the robe are ways of taking on God's authority, of literally wearing a symbol of compassion and gentleness.  It is a uniform, as much as a police officer's uniform is... it conveys my role and my task in that place.

Does a police officer stop being a police officer when the uniform is gone?  Or a surgeon when she takes off the scrubs?  Or a lawyer when the suit is hanging up in the closet?  Yes and no... sometimes we simply put on other hats and become wives and dads and little league coaches instead.  But I think that deep down, once we put on a vocation - a persona - we can't really take it off. 

Once I have put on this authority that Christ gave me, once I have put on kindness and patience and forgiveness - they aren't really things that I can take off again.  Once I have put on love... it is there to stay.  Perhaps it is just easier for others to see with the robe on.


  1. I just found my way here via your article in Circuit Rider (even though I'm not UMC), and I am really enjoying your blog. I look forward to adding it to my regular reading!

    I couldn't comment via Circuit Rider, so I'm doing it here: thank you for the gift of the phrase, "my blog is not my pulpit." That was exactly what I had been trying to say, as I feel called to go more public with my fairly-new blog and my "real life" identity. Great article, and a fun blog. I look forward to reading more.

  2. Thanks for finding the blog!! I look forward to reading your thoughts, too!