Last Sunday, one of the children during children’s time asked me why I was wearing a scarf in the summer time. I loved this question! In part, because I love that our children are happy and willing to ask me questions, but also, like I said then, if they’re asking those questions, you might be too.
Liturgical vestments, and really liturgical symbols in general can feel confusing. Why are there certain colors adorning the church at particular times a year? Why areyou wearing that scarf?
I thought for the next couple weeks we could use this space to talk about these topics. If you have any questions, by all means drop me a line and we can keep thinking through them!
So first, the stole.
The word stole comes not from “steal,” but instead from the Greek word στολή(which would be pronounced with a long a sound at the end, stol-a) which means “garment.” In the beginning of its usage, it was predominantly used to help understand rank – that someone had a particular occupation – this is why sometimes, after high school or college graduations, you might also see graduates wear stoles. In fact, a few of the vestments I wear (like my Geneva Gown, for instance, which I’ll talk about another time) are indicators that I am a pastor, and that I’ve spent the time to be educated in serving the church.
However, as the stole has been worn, its symbolism is far deeper and richer. Predominantly, the stole symbolized two things. One, by way of its color, it’s another reminder of what time we’re in. Because we’re in the time after Pentecost (also known as ordinary time), I wear green, which is itself a reminder of the hope and life that springs forth during much of the year together. During other times of the year I’ll wear different colors (which will be the same as what’s in the sanctuary).
The other reason why I wear the stole is that it’s a reminder of the calling I have in this particular work. It reminds me that I am both an ordained minister of the Word and Sacraments, and that I’ve made the decision to care for a congregation in that way – I have “yoked” myself to this task. Every Sunday when I place that scarf over my neck, I think of each of you, and I think about the weight of the task to help us all worship together. I am praying to be God’s vessel on Sundays, and my stole helps me to remember that as I walk through each moment.
Many of them have stories behind them as well. Some friends have made, some have been given to me by mentors, and still others are from my time in seminary. They all, however, are reminders of God’s faithfulness in my life, and hopefully ways to remember God’s faithfulness in your life, too.
It is helpful to note, too, that if some of you have had particularly “high church” experiences that soured you on lots of liturgical elements, you may feel some concern about stoles and robes. I share that same concern with you, especially when the use of these items as indicators of my role can be presumed as being viewed as higher than someone else. What is helpful about our shared Reformed heritage, however, is the reminder that we are all broken, imperfect people who deeply need God’s grace. I’m right there with you and make no claims to have some better in to grace as any of the rest of you. Instead, I’m just the person who has taken some time to get a sense of the roadmaps and help think through it – a tour guide through life’s journey. But I’m still a baptized believer desperately in need of grace.
So on Sunday, when you see my summer scarf, remember that right before service, I prayed for each of you, and I prayed that God work through me to care for each of you. That the Spirit be in our hearts and that we do the people’s work (the definition of liturgy) well. My stole, then, is the physical reminder of those prayers as
ps - the stoles you see in the picture are some of my dear friend Andrea's stoles that she makes by hand. Take a look at www.thetailoredstole.com