You Have The Right To Bare Arms (But Not In the Pulpit)

Constitutional puns aside, pigeons, I have had this note from a Facebook friend,

Please mention to your peeps that preaching or leading worship in a sleeveless top is not classy. Saw a photo of someone doing this- it was a great outfit, BTW, but I was like, she’s PREACHING in this? Did her jacket catch fire from the chalice or something??

Consider it mentioned, Rev. friend. Not only is it not classy, it’s not respectful or okay. Period. ‘Nuff said and no whining.

24 Replies to “You Have The Right To Bare Arms (But Not In the Pulpit)”

  1. I had to take my jacket off in the pulpit recently and exposed my bare arms. Having almost passed out because of heat exhaustion makes one more sensitive. If it hadn’t been for that, I would never have taken my jacket off.

  2. even if you have Michelle Obama arms? I don’t. But I’d love to see some of those in the pulpit.

  3. Forgive me Mother PeaceBang, for I have sinned, but I repent of my sleeveless ways and shall do so no more.

  4. I don’t think they’re as big a faux pas in office & other professional situations, even though I don’t have Michelle Obama arms. I usually don’t, however, as I’m usually in a rush and the current state of shaven-ness is questionable.

  5. Hmmm….I preach and preside in vestments, so this isn’t a question for me liturgically, but in the summer, I am almost always in sleeveless shirt dresses or crisp sleeveless blouses and pencil skirts, and other such attire in professional situations. Why are our arms off limits professionally? Is this some weird hold-over from a Puritanical ethic? I never got a copy of this particular rule book, and it seems perfectly silly to me. I am deeply grateful to have arms (having nearly lost one in a bizarre medical mishap years ago!) and do not find anything offensive or unprofessional at all about showing them. I happen to lift weights so my arms are rather muscular, but everyone should be able not to faint from heat in the summer, regardless of the shape of their arms. I find I am, uncharacteristically, disagreeing with you here, PB.

  6. PS As to the shaving situation: laser hair removal, sisters! 3 or 4 five-minute sessions and you’re done for life!

  7. I think it depends on the arms, but a lightweight alb is a great gift to us all 😉

    One thing about lazer treatment–it is NOT permanent. Particularly on the face. Hair growth is hormonal, so when your hormones change (ie in your 40’s, during pregnancy, etc.) new hair growth gets “turned on”. Lazer treatments only stops hair growth in the,say, 1/3 of follicles that are active at any given time. I say this because I spent a lot of money on lazer treatment for facial hair and had my second pregnancy basically undo it.

  8. Madgebaby, you’re right about laser hair removal; it usually does need to be maintained — often just once or twice/year — but I had mine done 9 years ago and it never came back. It depends on the kind of laser t used (they’ve improved and expanded a great deal in the past 5 years) and on one’s skin type. Not all skin types can have it done safely. Asian and darker skin types, Fitzpatrick Types IV-VI, are particularly susceptible to complications with lasers. ALWAYS see a board certified dermatologist for such procedures. (I was in medicine in my previous professional life, so I am fortunate to have known where to have this done.)

  9. In the pulpit I wear an alb, and thankfully this year invested in a lightweight alb. I wear a clerical shirt and usually a skirt beneath. For outings in the summer I may wear a sleeveless clergy shell, with a crisp shirt over top or a lightweight jacket. My arms are gradually becoming more batwing than anything else, so to have those babies flapping in the breeze would not be a good thing. But with a shirt or something to cover up the bare arms, I’m feeling okay about it…

  10. In the pulpit I wear an alb, and thankfully this year invested in a lightweight alb. I wear a clerical shirt and usually a skirt beneath. For outings in the summer I may wear a sleeveless clergy shell, with a crisp shirt over top or a lightweight jacket. My arms are gradually becoming more batwing than anything else, so to have those babies flapping in the breeze would not be a good thing. But with a shirt or something to cover up the bare arms, I’m feeling okay about it…

  11. Must be slow on the uptake. Trying to figure out why sleeveless clergy shirts are disrepectful. Granted I”m not ordained I’m a fellow fashion lover but my old parish had several female priests who went sleeveless in the summer & it wasn’t a problem.

  12. Bare arms/shoulders do indeed seem to be an area that provokes irrational controversy. I’m a lay worship-leader and preacher. A few years back on a hot day, I wore a sleeveless dress. As it was cooler in the sanctuary than outside, I kept a little cotton wrap on over the top as I lead worship. When I handed over to the pastor and went and sat down, I slipped the wrap off, as it was now much hotter in the sanctuary. When I went back up to help him serve communion, it didn’t even occur to me to put it back on. I got comments. Since then I’ve made sure what I wear has a little bit of sleeve, as I figure I want people focusing on worship, not on being cross about my arms, but I admit to finding the whole thing quite perplexing. I’m not Michele Obama, but I can “do” sleeveless, and do in all sorts of other situations, including quite formal ones.

  13. Hi Peace Bang,
    I guess I’m curious about how or why bare arms for preaching and leading worship are taboo. If the outfit is in good taste and one’s arms aren’t sporting large bat wings,I can’t see what is offensive- esp. in conditions of high heat and humidity.Maybe you could give us some background?

  14. Yes, as one who has led worship in dreadfully un-air-conditioned quarters, it does feel a little restrictive. It reminds me of being in Israel, when we had to flee a site memorializing Maimonides when we saw the Ultra-Orthodox coming. Of course, in my tradition (UU) the reprisal would be more like pursed lips and a lowered pledge.

  15. On another note: the Right to Bare LEGS! I have a hot tip for all of you who have veiny legs and don’t want to wear tights in the summer (yuck). Joan Rivers (yes, THAT Joan Rivers) markets a really, really great product called The Right to Bare Legs. It’s not a self-tanner, which I hate, but a leg make-up that dries evenly and doesn’t transfer onto clothes. It comes in several shades. Honestly, this stuff is great.

  16. Hmmmm…. not all of us are in “ministerial garb” when preaching. I tend not to wear sleeveless tops because of the ol’ wings a-flapping. I tend towards a short sleeve top (not a polo shirt) which is tailored an appropriate. But a younger set of biceps would not perturb me. Besides. In a hot, hot 100 degree plus summer with no A/C in the sanctuary, this hot flasher would not be able to abide a robe. Or pantyhose. (thanks, Rev. Brigid for that link!)

  17. HI there. I admit that I have committed this sin. Normally I would wear sleeves, even on a very hot day. I went somewhere to preach wearing a sleeveless dress with a shawl to wear over it. The sanctuary was not air conditioned and it had been closed up all week during a heat wave. It was 96 and very high humidity. Sweat was dripping off everyone; I was concerned about not fainting. I think everyone understood why my arms were exposed and I did not put the shawl on. I would say this depends on your locale and culture. [Well, I would argue against the “culture” that thinks it’s appropriate to preach in a sleeveless top – I don’t think that’s “culture,” but sloppiness. However, in your horrid climate situation you did the best you could, and that’s all we can ever do. We have to weigh serious consequences with reality. Better to preach in a sleeveless dress than to faint dead away! – PB]

  18. I don’t think it is offensive, bare arems are distracting–like brightly patterned shirts on men, shorts, sandals with lots of toe cleavage, patterned t shirts, pastels and a lot of prints (my personal opinion, assuming a sanctuary gathering). a sleeveless dress and a lightweight alb is really a great way to go.

  19. Like it or not, men don’t display a lot of bare skin in the pulpit. And in some ways, I think that we, as women clergy, invite diminishment of ourselves when we wear things such as sleeveless dresses/tops to be “comfortable”(and/or maybe to look attractive). This is true outside of the church too: If I’m at a (secular) meeting with a man and a women (he in a suit and tie, and she in a sleeveless dress/top), I hate to admit it but he always carries more authority and gravitas-even if he is sweating! It’s more difficult to take her seriously.

  20. I’m with glory. Shoulders are just a little too sexy for the pulpit, and they will evoke the places they are bared: the beach, a picnic, a fancy nighttime party. Assuming you want people to have their minds on sacred words, not on the moods evoked by beaches, picnics, and parties, it’s a good idea to cover them, in the pulpit, for the same reason one shouldn’t show cleavage (if nature has blessed one with such a thing) or any part of one’s thighs.

    FWIW, I think when visiting a site maintained by Orthodox Jews or conservative Muslims, one should dress as they consider appropriate. That, too, is a matter of respecting the local culture.

  21. I think glory hits it on the head. While there can be rare 100+ degree exceptions where I’d say sleeveless is okay, the general rule is: cover it up! You’re the PREACHER for gosh sakes!

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