Synod seeks to amend robes canon

18 July 2014


First of three: the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, preaches in the open air during his enthronement at Wakefield Cathedral, on Tuesday. Two further enthronements in the newly-formed diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales are scheduled to follow:​ at Bradford yesterday and Ripon on Sunday. The Bishop's new cope and stole were commissioned by the new diocese, from the designer Polly Meynell

First of three: the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, preaches in the open air during his enthronement at Wakefield Cathedra...

WEARING robes could become optional for those officiating at some services, after the General Synod passed a motion calling for draft legislation to relax the current rules.

After a debate on Saturday at the University of York, the Synod passed a private member's motion by the Revd Christopher Hobbs, from the diocese of London, which called for robing to become optional in some circumstances.

"For holy communion there is no flexibility," Mr Hobbs said. "It makes no difference if it is café-style in a pub, outside in a field, in a hotel lounge or lobby. Surplice and alb is required, with scarf or stole."

Many members of the Synod agreed, arguing that, in some contexts, the wearing of robes was inappropriate or unhelpful for mission. Sam Follett, the youngest member of the Synod, said that, for Fresh Expressions, robes would often get in the way of reaching the unchurched.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said that the law was "much breached", and that a solution was required.

Other speakers, however, spoke up in favour of vesture, suggesting that it helped congregations to know who was in Orders, and that it aided worship. Philip McDonough, a Reader, said that it was his robes that gave him his authority: he would vote against any motion that might encourage "slovenly" dress.

The Revd Rowan Williams, a chaplain at the University of York, argued that it was a misconception that robes were a barrier to young people. She said that symbolic clothing was a familiar idea to students, citing the formal robes required for graduation ceremonies.

To gasps from the chamber, Victoria Russell, from the diocese of Oxford laity, said: "I have seen some inappropriate dress - in one case, jogging bottoms and trainers."

As the motion was carried, the Business Committee of the Synod will now draft legislation to amend Canon B8, on the vesture of the minister during the time of divine service.

Full account of the debate

Interview with Polly Meynell, vestment designer

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