Someone recently asked me why Jay and I wear robes and stoles and what it means. It is a common question and I’d like to share some information with you about why Disciples clergy and other worship participants wear robes and stoles.
To begin, robes and stoles are called vestments. The linens on the Table, the pulpit, the lectern, and banners are called paraments. Vestments and paraments share colors and symbols that tell us where we are at in the church calendar. For example, the paraments and vestments are green. Green is the color for general time (not a Holy season like Advent or Lent) – green symbolizes growth as we grow in faith.
Vestments are worn to designate a person’s role in leadership – they’re practical. One of my mentors put it this way: if you’re wearing a robe in a large crowd, a visitor knows you are the minister and can come ask you about the church. Others can wear a robe during service. For example, the choir has robes; we know that someone wearing the choir robe is in the choir. Acolytes wear robes in some churches – we would know that the person wearing the acolyte robe is responsible for lighting the candles on the Table. You may remember that we have all worn robes during a worship service. We all wore a baptismal robe or gown during the service when we were baptized; the robe showed that we were one that would be baptized that day.
Robes are not just practical – they carry significant meaning. The robe is like what clergy wore in the Roman Empire; actually, everyone wore robes then. As styles of clothing changed, clergy and other church leaders continued to wear robes. The alb, the type of linen robe that Jay and I wear, is the earliest form of the clergy robe. There are many other types of robes – some look like the robe a judge might wear or like the choir’s robe or like an academic robe. I have a black robe which you have seen me wear – it is another style of robe that is made specifically for women. Regardless of the style, the robe reminds us of the robe that Jesus and the Disciples would have worn.
The stole, originally, was like the towel that Jesus would have thrown over his shoulder when washing the Disciples’ feet (John 13). I have also been told that it is a reminder of the yoke which Jesus gives that is light (Matthew 11). The stole, like the paraments, are symbolic of the church calendar. We are in general time and their color is green.
Stoles and paraments are not just plain; they have symbols. For example, the paraments and Jay’s stole have stalks of wheat which represent: the bread we eat at the Table; Jesus is the Bread of Life; Jesus’ broken body; God’s provision of food; etc. Last week and this coming week, I have a stole that is covered with grapes and vine. The grapes represent: the blood of the new covenant; the juice or wine we drink at the Table; Jesus is the true vine; etc. – it is still appropriate for this part of the church calendar year because the grapes are still growing on the green vine.
May we continue to grow through this season,