12 Simple Rules on What to Wear, What Not to Wear: UMC Edition
by Taylor Burton-Edwards
I recently received a request on the UMC Worship Facebook group for some simple, straightforward guidance about clergy vestments in the United Methodist Church.
I came up with the list below..
12 Simple Rules for Most Cases
1. Don’t wear purple clergy shirts unless you are a bishop. See #10 below.
2. Unless you’re ordained in the UMC, don’t wear a stole, and make sure the stole you do wear is the right one for your office (deacon or elder, including bishops). Diaconal ministers who received a diaconal stole at their consecrations may also continue to wear the stole, under the provisions of the ordinal under which they were consecrated. See also #12 below.
3. The alb is the “preferred” clergy garment (per The UMC Ordinal). This is in part because the alb may be worn by clergy and laity alike. It is a basic baptismal garment. The stole, not the alb or robe, is the sign of ordination.
4. We tend not to “do” cassocks for clergy. This is because the cassock was basically a monastic vestment for use in praying the daily office. While we do have a couple of related religious orders (Order of Saint Luke, Order of St Brigid of Kildare), most of our congregations don’t have “daily office” services. This doesn’t mean you can’t wear a cassock if you wish, but it does mean most of our folks won’t know what it is (they might think it’s a choir robe—see #5) or why you’re wearing it, and you’re likely not to have many occasions to wear it for the purpose for which it was designed.
5. Choir vestments come in a variety of forms. Some are cassock and surplice, others are basically robes/gowns. We have no rules about which style your congregation should use.
6. Most of our clergy do not use the chasuble. If you choose to use it, remember it’s a garment primarily for use during the Great Thanksgiving. You’d probably want to put it on as part of preparing the Table during the collection of the offering, then leave it on through the Sending.
7. Depending on how your alb fits, you may or may not need a cincture. For us, the cincture is more functional than symbolic. If you don’t actually need it to “gather” or hold together your alb, you don’t need to use one. If you do use one, you can either go “white/flax” year round or use cinctures that coordinate with the color of the day/season.
8. We have no special designation about who may wear a pectoral cross. They may be given to persons being commissioned (the uniquely United Methodist ritual inaugurating provisional membership prior to ordination), but laity may wear them, too.
9. The scapular may be worn over the alb by anyone, lay or clergy. The scapular is not a sign of any office, but rather a sign of being a “worker” in the kingdom of God. (It derived from aprons monks would use to help collect what they were harvesting in the fields). The scapular may or may not coordinate with the color of the season. Scapulars are not a kind of “mini-chasuble,” nor a replacement for a stole (if you are ordained) or chasuble (if you are the presider).
10. Bishops in the United Methodist Church have no special liturgical vestments. They are elders who are additionally consecrated for their episcopal role. They do get an episcopal shield/sign that may be sewn onto their alb or robe. There are also some stoles that include the episcopal insignia. Remember, the clergy shirt is not a liturgical vestment– it’s a work garment.
11. Let context help you decide whether to wear a clergy collar. I’ve found in Africa and some parts of Europe, most of our clergy wear the clergy collar most of the time. I’ve seen it more in the Philippines than in other parts of Asia. It’s generally less common among United Methodist clergy in the U.S., but fine to do where it makes sense in your context. Especially if you look young or are female, you may find wearing the collar reduces questions about why you’re there in hospitals, jails, prisons, and other institutions. There seems to be a fairly even distribution of those preferring “tab” or “full” (Anglican) collar style. Use what works best for you in your context.
12. All clergy– whether appointed local pastors, provisional members, or ordained deacons and elders– may wear clergy collars in The United Methodist Church(or choose not to!). Only ordained deacons and elders (including bishops) should wear the stole, and then only the stole appropriate to their office.
The stole is a sign of ordination, and it is placed on the shoulders of elders and deacons at ordination. The stole should be worn only by the ordained clergy. The new provisional services for ordination suggest the following:
For deacons — a stole over the left shoulder and fastened under the right arm at the hip.
For elders — a stole yoked at the back of the neck and hung straight down from the shoulders.
Stoles are of varied widths and colors and textures. The colors change with the liturgical colors of the church year.