Snowman’s new school requires students to wear a uniform of navy blue pants (or skirts, I would imagine, for young ladies) with a light blue oxford cloth or polo shirt on top. This is our first experience with a school uniform, and I want to get it right. They don’t have to order their clothes from a particular vendor, although I understand you may purchase "blues" from a store at the school.
I grew up with a lot of rules about what constituted acceptable clothing. When my brother started wearing an untucked oxford cloth shirt hanging beneath a sweater in college, he started a fashion trend at the College of Knowledge in Virginia. I, meanwhile, had a wardrobe of Peter Pan collared shirts, Fair Isle sweaters and kilts. I dressed my little boys in preppy clothes because to me they epitomized tidiness and acceptability.
And if we dressed a little more nicely for church, so what?
Last week I received a phone call from a woman who wanted to ask some questions about Main Street Church. She had visited a service while I was on vacation. She had some questions about the church and read that there would be copies available of the pastor’s series on Christian Formation. "I am the pastor," I answered. Perhaps I could be of help?
"Does that church have a dress code?"
I felt surprised, and then I did not. The members of Main Street Church, and particularly those who are present in the summer, are older people who dress nicely for worship. I would say the summer dress code is something like the retirees’ version of office casual. It’s unusual to see a man in a tie, but everyone is fresh and pressed.
"They do tend to dress nicely," I answered, "but there is no dress code."
"At my old church I wore a t-shirt and shorts," she told me.
"Well, I hope I will see you on Sunday," I answered. "It doesn’t matter what you are wearing."
I struggle with issues of appearance, my own and the church’s. We don’t want to focus only on the way things look, but perhaps there is a reason for making the choice to live or dress in a particular way. I sometimes envy my fellow pastors who wear clericals, because that uniform makes them recognizable and also alleviates the worry that they might choose the wrong thing to wear to an event. When the rules are clear, there are no questions. Snowman will wear the "blues" in classes and rehearsals, and regular clothes at other times. I, on the other hand, will probably always wonder what’s the right thing to wear on a hot July Sunday in a sanctuary with no air conditioning.
The Princess always makes a special effort on Sunday mornings, putting together outfits she would not wear to school, wondering if her skirt is long enough, as if there were a rule for church attire, though no one at home has ever told her to do a certain thing. You can see that by looking at her brothers. I’m just glad they come to church and will tuck in their shirts if they are reading or playing music.
I don’t know how an older church, both in years and in the ages of the members, can ever break down the perceived barriers that a formal entrance and brass candlesticks and chandeliers announce to anyone visiting for the first time. Are some barriers inevitable? Do we throw out the church with the barriers and start over again?
My caller sat in the back row on Sunday, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, a
woman in her ’50’s with long, long hair. When I asked the adults to
participate in our Children’s Moment (since all our children seemed to be
on vacation), she raised her hand and shared something about her
practice of prayer, something very lovely about listening for God in the silence. After the discussion, we did just that.
Our visitor received a number of greetings, but I suppose I won’t know whether she felt truly met until and unless I see her again.