The other night I found myself standing in front of the mirror struggling to attach a collar to my new clergy shirt. It’s a complicated (to me) process of buttons and layers and needless to say I was struggling and swearing and it took me a good ten minutes.
Growing up my Pastors (and they were all men) didn’t have clergy attire. They would wear a nice suit. There also wasn’t any other liturgical gear. Maybe a really big Bible to wave in the pulpit if they were feeling particularly emphatic about something. Oh and a communion set that we brought out a couple of times a year with the tiny plastic cups put into special tray that held all the little cups. There weren’t even any devotional items, really, as they would seem a little too *gasp* Catholic!
So I enter into an entirely new world of liturgical clothing and vestments. Rosaries and candles. Communion pyx and anointing oil and holy water. And I am mostly clueless. I am also very broke.
Let’s have a little conversation about money, shall we?
I’m not really sure how it works for other folks. I don’t know if they get a stipend from the parishes they work for or get a lot of gifts from their ordination. I don’t know if parishes simply have the vestments (owned by the church) that the priest or pastor can use or what. Whatever other folks’ situation, I am on my own. I don’t say any of this to complain, just simply to talk about all of this.
I wear the clergy shirts every day that I work at this point. A clergy shirt costs anywhere from $20 to $45. Per shirt. And if you want a nicer shirt with a different collar it’s at least $40 for the shirt and another $10 to $40 for the detachable collar. And that’s just everyday wear.
A stole (the long hanging thing worn around a clergyperson’s neck while presiding over services) cost anywhere from $80 to several hundred dollars EACH. And you should have several in different liturgical colors. To be fair I did manage to purchase a stole for my ordination off of ebay for $20. But there weren’t many on ebay.
Robes are a couple hundred dollars. If you are in a high church setting where you use even more vestments like a chasuble; those run around $500 and you’re supposed to have 4 of them in the different liturgical colors.
So we’re talking several thousand dollars for vestments. Now, once you buy these things you shouldn’t have to replace them (at least the more expensive vestments, I imagine I’ll have to replace my clergy shirts at some point), but that is still a very good chunk of change to put up in the beginning.
There should be some kind of church hand-me-down program for when priests or pastors retire to give or sell their vestments cheaply to new priests and pastors!
I am just mostly just amused to find myself in this new situation. I never expected to be wearing a collar every day or to be purchasing vestments and robes. Even throughout seminary I still expected to end up in a low church tradition. I never expected to find myself being ordained as an Old Catholic priest. And now here I am researching vestments and figuring out how to attach that collar to my shirt.
As someone who is working on starting a parish I am also thinking about how I am going to get the other liturgical items I will need in order to have Mass. Things like altar linens (which are pretty affordable) and a Chalice and Paten (which are not affordable). It’s all a bit daunting.
I am purchasing things as I can: a little bit at a time. I’ll start to save up for the more expensive items when I can.
Now I know some folks are thinking: What’s the point of vestments anyway? They are out dated and silly. They enforce a hierarchy that shouldn’t be enforced. They are a waste of money that could be used for other/better things.
I get it. I really do. And I definitely think there has to be a way for vestments to be more affordable, both for the sake of the clergy purchasing them, and because it does send a bad message about what we prioritize.
I have found, though, that wearing the clergy collar has helped me. I look young for my age. Even when I wear nice clothing I still look young. Wearing the collar has allowed folks to see me as a religious leader. This might not seem all that important, but I think it is a matter of identity. Like an EMS worker wears a uniform so that when they show up to an accident you know who to trust, the collar functions in much the same way. It’s not about hierarchy, it’s a way of designating role, of making visible.
As for other vestments, I can go either way. On the one hand it does make a clear distinction between folks who are ordained and those who are not. On the other it really sets apart what is happening in worship. It’s a way of making sacred. I appreciate the symbolism.
Who knew that in my very low church upbringing and heart there lay a smells and bells (well, actually just bells as the smells give me a headache) guy just waiting to be given a chance to get out!
This is all a journey. Thanks for letting me share it with all of you. I am interested in hearing how those of you who wear vestments afford them, if you got any training in how to wear them, etc.