Dec 2005: Clergy what not to wear

Your pewsitter was taught at early age that staring at other people was RUDE. But all of us make a big exception. Ministers. We stare at them for up-to-forty minutes a week. Unless you are one of those keen types – usually to be found in university churches – that take notes.

If truth be told we spend some of that up-to-forty minutes a week wondering why on earth the minister chose that shirt, or that tie or whatever.

At Moore College students are sometimes told to dress just a little smarter than the congregation. Those of you reading SC when you shouldn’t can take a peek now. If THAT’s smarter than you, then boy are we dags.

Ever since most Sydney ministers gave up wearing robes they have had a problem. What not to wear?

Sydney is a city of tribal costume: the studied casual of the eastern suburbs or the advertising agency look, CBD Zegna sharp. Northern beaches boardies. North shore rugby sports coat with leather elbow patches, T-shirt and jeans. Or just plain dorky like your columnist.

The tribal culture changes fast. In the CBD for example you can plot to the day when the fashions in ties change. There was a period of a few weeks some years ago when bottle green ties were the go. Then suddenly green was so last week.

Making my usual pretence of actually researching this column I called up the Fairfax photo library for one Peter Jensen. An exquisite irony emerged really fast. He looks good in red robes because bright colours look good on him. His complexion means a dark business suit is not always the best look for him on camera.

Our leader captures the clergy dilemma, looking medieval is ridiculous in modern Australia but working out what is the modern version of monks robes – humble but neat – is not that easy.

A minister I know has a style consultant. It helps. Of course if every Sydney minister took another bloke shopping it might lead to colourful rumours. “Does my face look Calvinist in this”?

There is something wonderfully unworldly about our clergy in sinful Sydney. The “empty display and false values of this world” are what this town is good at.  So our Diocese should wear as a badge of honour our clergy’s unworldly attire.

The alternative of a fashion conscious clergy is too awful to contemplate. It would be enough to make me turn Baptist again.


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