Matt of Catching Meddlers wrote:
I’ve heard all the arguments for wearing a preaching robe. Heck, I even like wearing a preaching robe. However…sometimes I wonder if it is something I prefer rather than something that aids in the translation and communication of the Gospel. I preach in a pretty rural area, and most people outside of the United Methodist churches I serve have never seen someone preach in a robe before. Sometimes I wonder if it is so strange to some of our visitors that it obscures the very preaching of the Gospel and even prevents them from returning. I’ve thought about this from a missional/contextual point of view. If we went to Papua New Guinea, for example, would we wear the traditional dress of a minister or pastor who had preached there for years, or would we drag out our pulpit robes or albs and begin to preach regardless of the local culture? I don’t think any responsible missionary would do that. In the same way, is it presumptuous or culturally insensitive for UM clergy to wear a robe (or alb) in a rural setting where people are more familiar with pastors wearing a nice buisness suit when they preach?
I recently bought a robe and stole which I shall wear for weddings and funerals. The church isn't used to robed pastors, and I have no objection to leaving it off. That's all part of incarnational ministry -- adjusting the form (but not the content) of ministry to the cultural expectations of the people.
One of Matt's commentors, Robert Duran, had an excellent response to this issue:
Do robes and albs get in the way of the message? Yes, sometimes they do for some people. Business suits get in the way for some people sometimes, too (particularly $1,500 well-tailored suits that smack of the “prosperity gospel” or the “city slicker here to fleece the local folks”).
It may be that robes and albs are more important to me because I grew up in a church that considered such garments a mark of apostasy from the “true religion.”
Do golf shirts and khaki Dockers get in the way for some people sometimes? Yes, they do.
Where I serve right now, the only dark suit - the only suit of any color - the only coat and tie, in the church on Sunday morning would be in the pulpit. Does that make the suit, the coat and tie, an outmoded costume or uniform worn to express continuity with another place and time? Sure does - just as the robes and albs do. I just believe it is more important to show that connection with the Church over the last 17 or 18 centuries, than over the last 7 or 8 decades. For others, it is more important to reject either of those connections, each of which brings to mind as many tragic events as powerful and positive events.