— Lucy Mills (@lucymills) June 5, 2012
I composed the above tweet as the royals and the clergy processed down the aisle of St Paul’s yesterday – the clergy bedecked in gloriously colourful and ornate robes. It was an impressive sight.
But it troubled me.
And I hasten to say that this is just my opinion, and I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty nature(s) of church government in this post.
But I’d like to express how I feel about the clothes. The accessories of priesthood. The things that say: I am important. I am special. I am different from what you are. I have a sacred duty.
You may feel wails of protest arising – it’s not about making them important – it’s symbolism. It’s glorifying God. It’s beautiful and sacred and profound.
I get it. But…
I spent most of my childhood going to an Anglican church. It is where I made my own commitment. I have a deep affection and respect for those inside it. But I am not an Anglican. (You can read more about this part my journey of faith here, which is part 3 of a personal story. )
When I watch the bishops and archdeacons processing in all their glory I am deeply uncomfortable. I am so distracted by the colour and the pomp that I do not see the person, and the effect on the nonconformist, and the unchurched, is that of something very…alien.
From my understanding of the New Testament, an overseer / bishop, elder, deacon etc is to be marked by their moral qualities – their conduct, their faith. This is not just in special roles either. Woman are told not to pride themselves on their clothes and braided hair. James warns us not to reserve special places for ‘important people’ at our banquets and occasions. I don’ t think he’d approve of reserving a special seat for the bishop. (I should say that I’m very aware that many bishops themselves probably hate special treatment and I have no disrespect for any of the people who hold such office. )
We’re told that Jesus, our once-for-all high priest, superseded the requirements of the Old Covenant and ushered in the New – he is the great High Priest for ever, and we are all a chosen people, a royal priesthood. The Old Covenant priesthood with all its richness and symbolism and ornate features was a sketch – a shadow of the reality that was to come.
Yes, I know that some are given special roles and enormous responsibilities, and are anointed for that purpose. It is an immense privilege.
But pomp? Lavish robes and fancy gear? This jars with me. I know for some it will have special significance. I know. But for some it is – dare I say it – a stumbling block.
By all means, celebrate our traditions and use the beauty of colour and symbolism, celebrating with all the senses. I love colour; I love symbolism. But when it comes to what we wear…
Either robe us all up – or no one at all.