Wolfe wore the whole Scottish fig: cassock, gown, and bands...

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This from a godly pastor in his seventies who spent his life ministering in Presbyterian churches. I respect him greatly and wish he were in our congregation. He didn't think this was worth a comment under this post, but I thought it worth its own post. Maybe we think alike because we both ministered in rural parishes, and in Wisconsin no less.

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1. I thought when I was in seminary that I would wear a gown & bands--probably without a clerical collar, using a system that one of our professors used.

Then I became pastor of two rural churches in N.E. Wisconsin & immediately realized how ridiculous this would seem. Oh, maybe I could have explained it all to folks. But was that my job--to talk about my clothes? Our churches had used a retired Presbyterian preacher for a while, who wore a robe. It was OK because they all understood that it was to conceal his fishing waders so he could get out on the trout stream right after church.

2. All the churches I served regularly were in small places or the open country. I did supply a pulpit in the Bronx over one winter...

After my introduction to the pastorate, it just would have seemed weird to wear a special costume, so I never did. When I preached at my collegiate alma mater back in the 1960's they made me wear a doctoral gown (property of a faculty member). And my presbytery once made me wear a choir robe at an installation (not my installation). But that was it. To change would have meant spending money, too, and I never had that much. Would I divert it from what we gave to the church? That did not seem godly.

3. It has been interesting to watch the changes in "clerical fashions." Most non-rural Presbyterian ministers back in the 1950's (in the East, at least) wore black gwons in the pulpit and normal clothes everywhere else. A few in bigger cities wore clerical collars. A few (more than today) wore bands in the pulpit.

Times changed and we began to see two things:  colored gowns and white albs. I never have figured out how they keep them white! Or why it's worth the effort.

Times changed some more: seminaries invented the D.Min. to make money, taking advantage of the continuing education fad. In order to advertise his status as a "Reverend Doctor," the preacher had to give up his alb and go back to the gown, now adorned with black velvet sleeve stripes and sometimes even a hood. If he also used a stole, he could be the rainbow coalition all by himself.

They told a story about Paul Wolfe, pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in the 1950's. Wolfe wore the whole Scottish fig: cassock, gown, & bands. He even had somebody make him one of those little soft hats you see on the Reformers in their pictures. When someone challenged him about this, he asnwered that Calvin did it. His interlocutor pointed out that Calvin did it because Saint Pierre in Geneva had two features lacking in the edifice of the Brick Church: drafts and pigeons.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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