The Dress Makes the Man

With much of my formative church experience coming in a relaxed, non-traditional, campus ministry environment, I never gave a lot of thought to vestments, the uniform of many pastors in Lutheran and denominations and congregations with strong links to some of the traditions of the Christian church.  The idea that wearing a clerical would be a regular part of my ministry – let alone the traditional alb and stole – never really entered much into the equation.  I assumed for a long time that these were things that were barriers to people’s comfort and ability to integrate into Christian worship.

I don’t assume that any more.  But that’s a whole different post entirely, most likely.  Heck, some people write whole books on that topic.  Anything I could say would be redundant.  Not that such a fact ever stops me from yapping away…
I’m not an overly emotional sorta guy.  Not terribly sentimental in many ways.  So it was a little surprising this morning, after worship as I hung up my alb and stole and cincture, to be caught be a moment of emotion.  A moment of awe and gratitude.  
Every Sunday I am blessed to wear a ‘dress’ for an hour or so.  The dress means a lot of things, but in essence it means that what I do for the span of that hour or 75 minutes is not about me.  It’s not my time.  It’s not my preferences that matter.  I’m not disembodied, so I’m still there of course, and personality and style comes through.  But for the span of that hour as I wear the dress,  my job is to seek to stay out of the way, to put my voice and my gifts formally at the disposal of the God I serve and the people He has entrusted to my care.  For that hour, as I wear the dress, everything I say and do ought to convey to those people the presence and love and grace and forgiveness of the God who created the universe.  
It’s an amazing privilege.  Were I brighter, it would probably be a privilege that overwhelmed me and reduced me to paralysis.  Who can bear such a burden?  Who can possibly fulfill such a task?  Whose steps do I follow in, what giants’ shoulders do I rest upon?  It’s crazy, really.  And yet every Sunday, I put on the dress and do those very things that ought to be impossible.  Each Sunday at the end of worship I take off the dress.  There is more work to be done.  Meeting and greeting, listening and praying, laughing and expressing concern.  There is a Bible study to be led.  But in all those things it’s more me at work.  Still seeking to be faithful, but in a different role, a different capacity.  The dress remains behind for the following week and that hour or seventy-five minutes of formally guiding the people of God through the experience of being drawn into God’s presence to receive the gifts of God and respond in prayer and praise.  
People ask if I love what I do.  I’ve done a fair number of different things so far in my life.  I’ve been capable in most of them, but none of them have filled me with a passion for what I do, a humility.  None of them have left me at the end of the day deeply satisfied and not always searching for the next opportunity on the horizon.  Until now.  In the unlikely vocation of wearing a dress each week and engaging in ritual nearly 2000 years old, I find that I am the one who is ministered to as much as anyone.  The one challenged, supported, encouraged, humbled, and equipped.  I love what I do, and am grateful for how God has worked in my life and the people He has surrounded me through all of it to bring me to this place and this time and this moment.  

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