Clergy must dress for the occasion



Is there an appropriate dress code for clergy? I began considering this question because a dear Methodist friend pulled me aside at a civic function to complain about his own pastor’s lack of appropriate attire.This pastor’s offense was that he wore khakis and a sport shirt to a funeral home visitation, the same attire he wears on a Sunday morning.

The first thing one might note is that the pastor came to the visitation at all.

Not all pastors do so anymore.

It depends on the situation; pastors often must choose between the best use of that time. So, I’m going to give the pastor credit for doing the main thing ... showing up.

Nevertheless, should one pay careful attention to attire as a clergyperson?

Here’s another clue to this specific situation.

The gentleman who complained to me was in his 90s and has spent most of his life looking up to pastors, almost exclusively male, who always wore coats and ties in public.

A person in this gentleman’s generation would perceive a pastor without a tie as slovenly, even if the khakis were pressed and the shirt starched.

Wardrobe selection is a tricky thing these days for clergy.

Those who serve in the Catholic Church wear a clergy collar as standard attire and a growing number of non-Catholic clergy also wear these collars, effectively removing the wardrobe issue from controversy.

But many clergy must still make daily wardrobe decisions and those decisions are getting decidedly more casual.

When United Methodist clergy gather, most of them are attired as if they are headed to the golf course, bowling alley or shopping at the mall.

It’s a new day for wardrobe and coats and ties (or dresses) are the exception to the rule.

The same is true on Sunday morning in many churches.

The prevailing philosophy assumes that casual clothing in the pulpit (if there is a pulpit) appeals to the unchurched: comfortable blue jeans, tennis shoes and a tee shirt are de rigueur.

As far as I can tell, the only way through this morass is to consider the context.

If I am going to a funeral home visitation and know that almost everybody there is going to be over 65, I’ll wear a coat and tie.

Same if the invitation is to a party for a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

In both settings everybody there will be formally attired.

But when the young adults invite a pastor to eat pizza with them, they would be shocked to see that person dressed in Sunday garb.

Wardrobe choices still make a huge difference in our society.

It’s just that 30 years ago the pastor wore the same uniform all week long.

Now context makes all the difference

One final note: My wife would be utterly shocked to know that this columnist, who is the least conscious fashionista in Georgia, is attempting to write anything about clergy wardrobe.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.