I know a fabulous woman from Oldham, Lancashire. Her name is Muriel. She is a member of St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key FL, which is also my parish.
Muriel always dresses up for Church. She wears the most fabulous suits or dresses, and always looks like a million dollars. Above all else (literally and metaphorically), when Muriel comes to Church she is always adorned with a most gorgeous hat. Those hats are the crowning glory of her beautiful outfits.
Muriel is not making a fashion statement. Rather, she “dresses up” in honour of the occasion. She knows that to dress well is to honour her host/s. I like that.
With that in mind I dressed up a bit for last Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner which was hosted by my friends Elliott, Janet, Jesse and Maggie.
I had noticed that on such “semi-formal” occasions the women guests would often wear their finery, whilst the men might opt for a Hawaiian shirt, and shorts.
In my wish to honour my hosts and the other guests, I dressed up a bit. (Best shoes, dress pants (trousers), long sleeved shirt and a tie to match – [the weather having spoken against a sports jacket or blazer]).
I dressed up again this morning. I was the Presider at St. Boniface’s 9:00 a.m. Eucharist.
Since it was Advent Sunday I wore a cope. I had not so done since 2000 when I left St. Stephen’s Pittsfield MA. (St. James’s in Cambridge MA did not own any copes)
A cope is nothing more than a cape. It can be worn by ordained or lay ministers. It has no theological meaning. It is usually worn in Church processions in order to emphasise the dignity of the occasion, thus its meaning is anthropological.
Just before the Eucharist, outside in the courtyard, the “naughty boy” in me led me to swoop towards a nine or ten year old boy crying out “I am Bat-Priest”. He giggled.
Then it was my turn to giggle when I heard another child ask his Mum “who is that purple man?”
But once we entered the Church itself my attire dictated my behaviour. I drew myself up to all of my 5’8” and walked in procession with all the dignity I could muster.
That dignity is inherent. It is rooted in my creation in the image and likeness of God.
It is also acquired. It is a dignity bestowed upon me through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Finally it is representative. A be-Coped Priest is a sign to all of God’s people of their dignity in the sight of God, and in their fellowship with each other in Christ.
I wore the Cope to honour the host – the Lord Jesus Christ.
I wore the Cope to honour the guests - God’s people at St. Boniface.
This “wearing of the Cope” reminded me of the awesome words of the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer liturgy for Ordinations - the one which was used when I was ordained as a Priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Fitchburg, MA in 1976. The Bishop addressed me thus:
In her 1996 book “Queen Victoria’s Secrets” (Columbia University Press) the author Adrienne Munich says this of the British Queen and Empress of India. “Victoria........blended into her age while standing apart from it”.
That’s also the role of a Priest as I experienced it this morning.
I “blended with my age” as I had those wonderfully silly moments with two young children before the service.
I “stood apart from it” as I presided at the Holy Eucharist in the dignity of the office to which I was called when I was ordained.