Many professions distinguish themselves by distinctive dress. Examples include a deputy’s badge, a firefighter’s helmet, a doctor’s white coat, or a chef’s apron. Form often follows function although ostentation can also play a part.
Methodist clergy traditionally wear robes and stoles while leading worship. This practice varies, however, especially with the rise of contemporary services. People occasionally ask about the significance and symbolism of clerical garb.
Some scholars believe the practice originally emulated the robes worn by Jewish priests in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the early church, Christians donned a white alb cinched with a rope that symbolized their baptism.
Ironically, John Calvin inspired the robes most commonly worn by Methodist clergy today. The founder of Calvinism was a practicing attorney who wore his legal robe to preach. Judges still wear similar garments in the 21st century.
Authors also note that the Methodist Church historically has placed a high value on educated clergy. Clergy robes and academic gowns share much in common, including the use of “stripes” on the sleeves to designate a doctorate degree.
A clerical robe also serves as a symbol of ordination in the Methodist Church. Varying widely in cost, color, fabric, and design, they serve as a reminder of the call to specialized ministry that all clergy share.
Next week: Robes and Stoles, Part 2.