Oh hey, Reverend. You’re looking pretty sharp in your new capsule wardrobe. Now it’s time to think about vestments.
In certain Christian traditions, vestments are not a part of the ballgame, and you will be expected to preach and lead worship in your street clothes. If you are a pastor in such a church, good for you! Go ahead and spend your vestment budget on distressed jeans instead.
For the rest of us, the vestment universe can be a dizzyingly complicated, frighteningly arbitrary, and VERY EXPENSIVE place. If you’re just starting out, how much of this stuff do you really need? What do you have to buy for yourself, and what will your church provide for you? And when do you wear it all?
Let’s take a look.
Alb. If you are an Episcopalian (or, in some areas, a Methodist, Lutheran or Disciple), this is your jam. An alb is a long white robe symbolizing baptism and may be worn by any baptized Christian. Clergy usually wear them for Eucharistic services; lay people may bust them out when they are serving as subdeacons, chalice bearers, or acolytes. Don’t worry, my low Protestant friends — academic preaching robes will be covered in a forthcoming post.
Most alb-using churches have a stockpile of albs in various sizes. However, these get a lot of wear and rapidly become dingy from other people’s neck sweat. Gross. Also, if you are petite (I am 5’3″) and dare to rely on the stockpile, you will probably have to fight a tween acolyte every Sunday for custody of the one short alb. Just buy your own.
Where should you purchase this alb? Almy has some nice options (like the lace-trimmed one featured at left, which is the one I own). Like everything made by Almy, your alb will last forever but will fit like a potato sack. With an alb, though, the potato-sack fit is actually fine.
WomenSpirit also makes albs in a range of styles, although I counsel you away from the one with embroidered grapes on it. Wippell’s albs are well-made but pricey. I don’t know what they’re doing with all that money, because they are certainly not investing it in web design.
Cincture. Any Spanish-speakers out there? A cincture is a cinturón (belt) that goes around your cintura (waist) when you are wearing an alb. Although you can buy them in different colors for every season, in the Episcopal Church I’ve only seen white ones. I recommend the rope style pictured at left; this band style will make your alb look too much like a prom dress. You can choose a cincture finished with tassels or big-ass knots (properly called “monk’s knots”): Either one is fine.
Before I assisted at my very first funeral, I realized I had no cincture. I ran into my church’s robing room and grabbed the first skinny white rope I saw. As I tied it around my waist, I noticed that it seemed awfully long, but I didn’t overthink it.
A few minutes later, a member of the altar guild wandered into my office. “I was going to tie off the first few pews to reserve them for the family of the deceased,” she said, “but I can’t find the pew rope.”
Fidgeting in my vestments, I looked her straight in the eye and said, “That’s so odd. I wonder where it could be.”
Don’t be like me. Better to have your own cincture. They’re cheap.
Stoles. First, let’s take a moment to appreciate this WomenSpirit ad’s resemblance to a promo poster for a horror film.
These evil women would like you to note the difference between a deacon stole (right), which is shaped like a pageant sash, and a priest/pastor/elder stole, which is shaped like a yoke. Sort of.
Some churches are well-stocked with a complete supply of stoles that match their altar linens. If this is true of your church, you won’t need to buy any at all, although you will probably want to because stoles are cool.
In a liturgical church, there are four basic colors you will need:
- Red for Holy Week, Pentecost, ordinations, installations, and martyr’s feasts.
- White for Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals, secular holidays, and non-martyr saints’ days, plus a few outliers like All Saints’ Day, Epiphany, and Christ the King. Gold and silver stoles both count as white, but slow your roll, Liberace. Get yourself a plain white one first.
- Purple for Lent and Advent.
- Green for everything else.
And two bonus colors!
- Blue if your church prefers to use blue instead of purple for Advent.
- Pink (Rose) if your church uses rose vestments for the happy Sundays in Advent and Lent.
Now, a word about taste. A stole indicates that you are a laborer in the vineyard, doing your best to live into your call. It is not meant to make you into a human billboard, and it should not have to do all the work of the liturgy by itself. You do not need a stole with an entire appliquéd Bible story on it; that is what the Scripture reading is for. You should not need a stole that says BLACK LIVES MATTER; that is what your sermon is for. If you cannot resist the siren song of Etsy stole shops, at least build a good set of well-made basics first.
If somebody wants to buy you a really nice ordination present, the Holy Rood Guild is expensive but unmatched for quality. And if you are trying to build your pastoral aesthetic, you could do what I do and make Pinterest boards of stoles in each color. I try to remember to pin an image every time I come across a stole I don’t hate.
Stay fabulous, my friends … and stay tuned for Part 2: Choir Dress!