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. Last week’s blog traced the history of robes, and this week we are exploring the meaning of stoles.
Stoles are bands of cloth about four inches wide that are worn around a pastor’s neck and over a robe. The liturgical vestments can be made of cotton, wool, silk, polyester, and other natural or manufactured materials. The colors of the stole (traditionally white, purple, green, and red) correspond to the seasons and festivals of the church year.
Clerical stoles may have originally emulated Jewish prayer shawls described in Hebrew Scripture. Other scholars believe the bands served as imperial badges of office after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The stole serves as a symbol of ordination. Theologically, it reminds clergy they are “yoked” to Christ, and pastors are called to imitate Christ’s servant leadership when he bowed to wash and dry the disciple’s feet.
Today the United Methodist Church authorizes ordained deacons and elders to wear stoles. Deacons, ordained to Word and Service, typically wear a stole diagonally off of one shoulder to the waist. Elders, ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service, wear stoles that go around the neck and hang from both shoulders below the waist.
A clerical stole 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.