Motion launched to alter law on vesture

03 January 2014

CRE

IN BRINGING to the General Synod a private member's motion recommending a relaxation of canon law as it pertains to clergy vestments, the Vicar of St Thomas's, Oakwood, in north London, the Revd Christopher Hobbs, is aware that "it might be better to let sleeping dogs lie."

"Bishops never make a fuss about it, but potentially they could; so it would be better if the law was changed, in my mind, to reflect reality rather than just have it there on the books," he said last week. Although it may come as news to members of some congregations, who may be more accustomed to seeing their priest in a V-neck sweater than a surplice, canon law prescribes particular choices for the correct vesture of a minister.

Canon B8 states: "At the Holy Communion the presiding minister shall wear either a surplice or alb with scarf or stole." At morning and evening prayer on Sundays, "the minister shall normally wear a surplice or alb with scarf or stole." At the occasional Offices, "the minister shall wear a surplice or alb with scarf or stole." The PCC has a right to be consulted, and in a case of disagreement, the minister must refer the matter to the bishop.

Mr Hobbs's motion, which has attracted 115 signatures, calls on the Business Committee "to introduce draft legislation to amend the law relating to the vesture of ministers so that, without altering the principles set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Canon B 8, the wearing of the forms of vesture referred to in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of that Canon becomes optional rather than mandatory".

Last week, Mr Hobbs said: "In Evangelical churches, robes are often not worn. Usually, people are quite happy, and some of the newer people really don't like it when you wear robes. . . I do break the law sometimes, because in my tradition, most of us do. We feel bad about it, and that is why we would like it to be changed."

After confirming that he does wear robes every Sunday at his morning service, he suggested that a priest wearing robes could be an obstacle to those new to church.

He also told the Today programme on Radio 4 last week: "If you're really trying to talk about Jesus and bring people in who haven't been going to church, and they go along and they find the person's in unusual clothing and period dress, it's a kind of barrier for them to what's going on.

"In the New Testament, it doesn't say anywhere what ministers should wear. You just assume from reading it that they would wear what ordinary people wear."

Question of the week: Should it be up to priests and PCCs alone to decide what ministers should wear?

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