It’s always tough to go from an ecclesiastical engagement to a social one, isn’t it? And what’s a girl to WEAR?
This Sunday I will be participating in an installation (wearing vestments to the service, but there’s the reception to dress for, too) and then meeting friends for a casual dinner. It would be so tempting to wear a cute dress with a long, granny sweater, boots and big earrings and do the Boho Look, but that just wouldn’t be appropriate for the historic congregation. I feel that a formal occasion in the church calls for structured clothing on the clergy. Therefore, I will be wearing a black suit, these shoes in blackbrown-belladonna.jpg, and try to add some “interest” factor with a neat belt and scarf. I’ll have to be overdressed for dinner but there are benefits: that belt and slightly snug blazer will probably keep me from chowing down too enthusiastically!
Pigeons, hear me on this: no minister should wear corduroy anything to an installation. It’s too informal. We have so few truly special occasions left in this jeans-and-Crocs world, the clergy should be impeccable at these events. It’s a visual way of connecting with the past and honoring the present.
Furthermore, my fine feathered friends, our conduct at installations and ordinations should be as elegant as our dress. It pains PeaceBang’s heart and makes her blood pressure rise when ministers get into the pulpit at an ordination and make jokey, social-clubby work of the Charge to the Minister, the Right Hand of Fellowship or any of the other elements. This is wildly inappropriate and PeaceBang ardently wishes she never felt the need to say anything about it, but she finally must. An ordination or installation is not a party, it is a religious ceremony. An installation is not a clergy hazing ritual, it is a sacred rite which establishes bonds between congregation and their chosen minister (I speak from a congregational polity perspective, of course). It is one thing to use warm humor and a personal touch in our moments with the ordinand or new minister; it is another thing altogether to chortle and fumble our way through some aspect of the liturgy that we have not thoroughly prepared on the theological, emotional and purely technical level. The former is delightfully human, the latter is inexcusably sloppy and disgraceful.
If we are asked to participate in an ordinaton or an installation, it is our responsibility to know where our piece fits in the liturgy, to meet with the liturgist (or at least speak with him/her) about our part, and to think through not only our words but our “staging,” if there is any. We should arrive early enough to robe and to receive our instructions regarding how and when to ascend the pulpit, and when to leave. Are we introducing a hymn? Should we remain up at the pulpit while another colleague gives a prayer or reading, and exit with him/her for symmetry’s sake? We must think not only of our piece, but of the transitions in and out of it.
There’s an awful lot of showbiz in these services, and as it is the participants’ responsibility to learn our part, so is it the responsibility of the ordinand/installee to stay in close touch with the presiders and to provide them with all the information they need. There should be a marshall chosen and trained in advance to “run the show,” if you will, so that the ordinand or “installee” is not troubled by these details on this big day. A water pitcher and glasses, tissues, cough drops and sufficient copies of the Order of Worship will all be appreciated in the robing room, as will a full-length mirror and un-messy, un-sugary snacks for pastors on the run who had no time for lunch. If we wonder why so few of our colleagues attend ordinations and installations, PeaceBang would tend to guess that low blood sugar and late-Sunday exhaustion has a lot to do with it. Set out some coffee and little sammies for the preacher boys and girls and we may see our district attendance rising at these events.
If they are traveling any considerable distance, a sit-down meal should be provided afterward for major participants (whom we may assume are especially dear to the ordinand’s heart and therefore a delightful prospect as dinner guests): they should not be expected to fill their bellies while on their feet during the busy din of a reception. This meal should be planned with the Ordination/Installation Committee and can be as simple or as fancy as the church budget allows. It should not be omitted for any reason, however, as it is most inhospitable to import colleagues from a distance and then fail to feed them before they get back on the road home. What have we come to that we should expect either busy colleagues or eminent retirees to travel to our church on our behalf, deliver carefully prepared words and prayers, stand on their feet for an hour “working the crowd,” and then climb back into the car or plane exhausted and unfed? I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, newbies, but a generation that considers gracious hospitality optional is a sorely deficient generation of the Church.
Hear ye! Preachers for the event should receive a gift in the mail within a month of preaching your service: they have, after all, taken extraordinary pains to craft a special sermon for your special event and very possibly their second of the day. It is an enormous honor to be asked to preach at your ordination or installation, but also a burdensome responsibility. Do not fail to recognize, and to appreciate, this. PeaceBang has preached one ordination sermon in her life that took her no less than 15 hours to craft to her satisfaction( and during her vacation, no less)! She doubts that this gets much easier with time and experience. Other participants should receive a written thank-you note within a few months.
Although we are in an era of modernizing the church and its programs, installations and ordinations are occasions requiring the utmost decorum and attention to detail. They are teaching moments for the Church and shining examples of our polity in action. Above all, congregations themselves should be educated well in advance of the installation or ordination on the history and meaning of these occasions so that they are not, as PeaceBang has too often seen in the Free Church, sitting in the pews under the impression that they are passive, fond observers of this ritual, but understand their centrality to the proceedings.
(Random photo: I have no idea who all these Piskies are but they look nice for this event.)