The presiding minister of the church is often dressed differently from the congregation. Here are five of the most common alternatives. I asked a number of people for their opinion. If you are unfamiliar with them, I have added links to my glossary. The question was: Which does your pastor wear, or if you are a pastor yourself, which do you wear?
- 45% chose a business suit.
- This is the only choice that in my crackpot opinion is completely inappropriate, because it is worldly. The church is not a business. A business suit is fashionable, it is comfortable, and it expresses the wearer’s sense of style, and these are precisely the reasons why it should not be worn. Ministers are not supposed to be representing the changing fashions of this world, but the unchanging mercies of our God. Their primary concern should not be their own comfort, but the spiritual well-being of their congregation. They should not be representing themselves, but God. Business suits also allow the clergy to pass for a lay person, which means that newcomers and visitors might not know who the pastor is.
- 24% chose an alb.
- The main difference between cassocks and albs is that cassocks originated in monastic communities and were originally designed for streetwear, while albs are the modern adaptation of first-century tunics and have historically been worn by worship leaders in the church. Cassocks are generally black, albs are generally white. They are both adaptations of first-century tunics. They both mark the minister as performing in an official capacity, not as a private individual. Martin Luther wore an alb.
- 13% chose a cassock.
- The main difference between cassocks and albs is that cassocks originated in monastic communities and were originally designed for streetwear, while albs are the modern adaptation of first-century tunics and have historically been worn by worship leaders in the church. Cassocks are generally black, albs are generally white.They both mark the minister as performing in an official capacity, not as a private individual. John Wesley and Ulrich Zwingli wore cassocks. I prefer a cassock myself.
- 13% chose a Geneva gown, often called a robe.
- Geneva gowns originated in medieval times as academic gowns. The three stripes on the sleeve originally indicated that the wearer holds a doctorate degree. University professors used to wear them while teaching, and they are still common at academic convocations at secular colleges and universities. They are common in the Reformed tradition, because Calvin wore one. (Calvin was not clergy). However, Zwingli, who was also in the Reformed tradition, wore a cassock.
- 5% chose a clergy shirt.
- This is appropriate for leading informal worship and for public ministry where vestments are impractical, such as visiting the sick. The advantage of wearing a clergy shirt to visit people in the hospital is that everyone knows what you are and why you are there. You have quicker access and carry greater credibility with the hospital staff. Even a delirious patient can tell that you are a minister and not some casual visitor. I have also discovered that, in my area, people with clergy shirts don’t have to pay the parking fee at the hospital, which saves the church a lot of money.
There are two types of clergy shirts: tab-collar shirts and neckband shirts. The tab-collar shirt has a white tab in the collar centered under the chin, while the entire collar of the neckband shirt is white.
If you are not sure of the terminology, here are the links for cassocks, Geneva gowns, and albs.