For most of my life, I’ve loved clothes, writes Fr David Warner, who offers this charming post for our church blog. Not everyday clothes, but uniforms and particularly vestments. As a child, I remember the sight of albs and surplices flapping on the washing line, like disembodied servers and choristers waving around.
Since I was ordained (and I confess even before that) I’ve collected vestments. I’m strictly an amateur – I love eBay, as it throws up extraordinary items, for a fraction of what they must have cost. Much of the older needlework simply isn’t produced any more. I wonder about the stories of these stoles, chasubles and copes. Whose were they? What joys and sadnesses have they witnessed?
Most of my kit is much older than me, and was received as gift, sometimes on the understanding that I too will pass it along. I try to do this – to pass on stoles to new priests and deacons, to lend people things for special occasions – each of these adds to the story these vestments are part of.
There’s some fairly obscure stuff – a black humeral veil isn’t needed that often, but one day it will come in handy and I’ll be ready! I live out this vocation as a priest, in part, through these clothes and certainly in them: like a teacher’s whistle or a nurse’s watch they silently witness all that the priest encounters. Vesture is symbolic, is holy, is part of what we are because it’s integral to what we do – the offering of praise and worship – an outfit for every occasion reminding priests and people that the Good News of Christ must be part of every aspect of life from birth to death and beyond.
This isn’t about being rubrically strict about what is worn and when, but about unfolding the mystery of God’s love in every part of life, it’s about God being present: the short sick call stole has been there at every bedside I’ve been privileged to sit at, the oil stock has done its job at the font, the altar and the deathbed. The small portable font has allowed me to give dignity and maybe even honour to the baptism of those about to slip from this world, and the cope which is worn on wedding days shows the glory and beauty of love. I will use them until it’s time for the next priest to pick up the baton, the stole, the aspergillium, the chasuble or the cope.
Just as the stones of our churches cry out in memory of all they have witnessed, so our vesture does too. It inspires us to hand it along, as we hand along the God News that is our duty and our joy, our life and our light.