Summer Rites of Passage

Hello, my dear pigeons!

Let us check in in the midst of summer, when most clergy I know agonize more than any other time of year over how to do the job that must be done while not melting away or looking like a drowned rat.

I remember preaching an ordination in August in Pittsburgh once many years ago. It was so hot in the sanctuary that I sweated through my clothing AND my robe. As I preached, I could feel my shoes filling with sweat. I had to walk away from the chancel extremely carefully so as not to walk right out of my shoes. Thank the gods I had an actual towel with me so I could remove all of my clothes in the pastor’s office, towel off, re-dress myself and towel dry my hair.

Last week was chock full of rites of passage for me, several of them with challenging attire decisions. Let’s walk through them, shall we? Click on the photos to enlarge.

First, a wedding rehearsal. I must have changed clothes four times. A suit was far too formal. A blazer also more work-day than I wanted. I had a pretty floral dress and cropped cardigan for the reception the next day and all my church skirts and tops seemed not formal enough for the venue. I wanted something that would seem special but not too dressed up. I settled on this long, patterned duster, black pencil pants and flats. I have gotten a lot of use out of this garment and am very glad I bought it this spring.

(This is the Richard Rodgers Theatre in NYC, not the wedding rehearsal. And the photo is cropped. I don’t have one man hand. That hand belongs to someone else).

The wedding itself was easy. Thank God for vestments. The only issue I had was that I had a very hard time reading from my Kindle in the sun. That has never happened before and it’s a good argument for going with my iPad next time, although I can hold the Kindle much more easily. That makes a difference when you’re doing handfastings and holding rings and such.

By the way? I looked all over heaven and yon to find a beautiful way to tie the cords and create an actual knot (hence the expression “tying the knot”) and found this little tutorial to be just what I needed. I practiced at home until I could do it without fumbling.

Stole by Jeffrey Wunrow.

The next day I drove down to a friend’s house to do a private christening. Let’s not talk about the ecclesiology of this right now – but I’d like to. My own reasoning is that the Christian community began as a house religion, and I’ll leave it at that.

So what was I going to WEAR? It was hot. It was informal. I didn’t want to wear a long, floppy stole over street clothes and I don’t have a chaplain’s stole that would suit the occasion (although I’d like to get one). I settled on a linen top and skirt from J. Jill and a big silver cross.

Photo by Amy Hildreth

I scooted off to NYC to see “Hamilton” for a second, equally life-changing time and then returned to New England to officiate at a funeral for a friend’s family member. They didn’t want vestments. Also, the church was extremely hot. What to wear?

I went with a black skirt, black sleeveless top, white blazer and an interesting necklace I brought back from Palestine. It’s not fancy, it’s more earthy. Here’s my face.

I wore the same ankle strap Dansko flats you see in the christening photo. I am really glad I have those – they have actual support.

The gravesite ceremony was the next morning. It was also extremely hot under brutal son. I stepped a bit to the side under a tree so I could read from my Kindle, and I wore the black pencil pants, lace black shell (dressier than a regular camisole top but just as comfortable) and a white linen trapeze jacket with one big button. I have preached many summer services in that jacket, and I have one in black as well. I don’t have any photos, just this selfie that I took for my friend featuring the faux diamond signaling my “diamond member” status for breakfast. I thought that was hilarious. You can see from my eyes that I’m getting very tired. By that point I had been in three states, four different sleeping arrangements, a couple of road trips, two Amtrak journeys, a bunch of subway rides, about ten walking miles and four rites of passage (including a pilgrimage to Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side and a Broadway show — two of my religions) all within less than a week.

I hope you’re all doing so very well. Please check in when you can. MWAH!

Ordinations And Installations

‘Tis a shame that there is no comprehensive, current, authoritative resource for the planning of ordination and installation services in the Free Church, which leaves each minister and their congregation flailing a bit in the planning of the liturgy.

These services are extremely important in marking the moment at the culmination of ministerial formation or search and call process by which a layperson becomes a minister, and a minister becomes the settled minister of a congregation. It is a fairly simple matter to call upon one’s colleagues to find out “what they did” and to pass down the theological and ecclesiastical import of each element of the liturgy: eg, the Act of Installation, the Charge to the Minister, the Right Hand of Fellowship.

I know that the Unitarian Universalist Association Department of Ministry has a file with orders of service from these ceremonies, and I assume that this may also be true of other denominational headquarters.

Given that such resources for planning of ordinations and installations exist, I would like to say a word about what these services are not.

To use totally old-fashioned language, an ordination is the ceremony by which a member of the laity is set apart by a congregation and anointed an ambassador of Christ to do the work of God in the world of men. The service should therefore center not on the ordinand but on the vocation of ministry itself, on the work and mission of the Church in the world, and on the authority of the congregation to discern which from among them should be set apart to serve and lead them.

An ordination is not a graduation.

PeaceBang has squirmed through many lengthy testimonials at ordinations as to the hard work and commitment of the new minister given by spouses and family members.
This is inappropriate, as family and partners have no role in an ordination service except for silent and symbolic one: perhaps lighting a candle or taking part in the laying on of hands after the clergy mentors have been first called forth. The ordination ceremony is between an ordinand and the Church. Family tributes should be saved for receptions, if at all.

Ordinations and Installations are not comedy roasts.

Ordinations and installations are not time for cute palling around, jokey commentary about the minister that demonstrates what a hail-fellow-well-met the guy is. This silly nonsense should be saved for dinner and drinks among the clergy friends and other intimates: its inclusion in the religious ceremony is puerile and excluding of the most important participants in the occasion — the lay members of the gathered church. Clergy comportment at ordinations and installations should be formal even when it is warm and affectionate. It is only natural for friends to be happy and excited when one of their own dear colleagues is settled in a congregation or is endowed with the title “reverend” on a great day of ordination. That said, it is thoroughly obnoxious that the congregation should be made to chortle indulgently at shoulder pounding “atta girl” moments between participants in the service. In a world where so little is sacred any more, it is the clergy’s responsibility to assure that these rites of passage reflect their historical and ecclesial importance.

Ordinations and Installations are not an Olympic sport:

Participants in these services are not in a competition to see who is closest to the ordinand or installee, to see who can share the most entertaining anecdote or who can most flagrantly violate the time limit set by the person who planned the liturgy. There is one preacher, who alone should give the sermon. The other participants should be very clear about the theological and liturgical function of their piece of the service in advance, and prepare accordingly. Let not the Introduction to the Offering become a Charge to the Congregation and let not the Laying On Of Hands become a Sermon, and let not the Invocation become a Prayers of the People or a poetry slam. Let not the Postlude be a recital. It is the liturgist’s responsibility to review every part of the service with each participant well enough in advance to assure their understanding of their role, and it is each participant’s responsibility to show up on time, sober, prepared, and respectful of their time limitation.

Ordinations and Installations should never focus entirely on the special vocation, hard work, commitment, religiousness and sacrifice of the clergy without including equal appreciation for the vocation and commitment of the laity.

PeaceBang has attended more than one ordination where she felt like apologizing to the lay people at the reception for the ridiculous carrying on about the special status of the clergy. While the new minister stands smiling in their new robe and stole greeting well-wishers and getting fussed over, notice the elder ladies quietly bustling around putting out the egg salad sandwiches and serving the punch. They’re every bit as holy and have likely made many sacrifices for the church. Lest we forget. Clergy participants, it’s not induction into the Society of Martyrs. Cool it on the overwrought, self-serving statements. There are other demanding professions, most of which come with no accompanying privilege. Let’s get over ourselves.

Ordinations and Installations are not eternal punishment for the faithful:

There is no reason whatsoever on God’s green earth that these services should last over 75 minutes. See to it that they do not unless you worship in a tradition where services regularly flow well over an hour.

For all:

Shine your shoes.
Get to the venue early enough to take your time robing. Brush your hair, for heaven’s sake.
Straighten each other’s stoles.
Make sure that you have your necessary papers or electronic devices onto which you have already downloaded any documents you need. Do not rely on there being wi-fi!
No saracastic asides: they’re jejeune and distracting.
If you’re using a microphone, do a mic check and still be sure to project and enunciate.
Put a check or money in the pocket of your robe for the Offering.
Get rid of your gum.
Don’t you dare look at your phone during the service.
If you’re on the chancel, keep your feet on the ground. No crossed legs. It’s sloppy and disrespectful.
Remember to your reading glasses if you need them for the Processional and Recessional hymn.
No wearing reading glasses on the top of your head. They are not a headband.

Funnel Neck Coats And Winter Commitals

Darlings, what we have here in Massachusetts is a good old-fashioned blizZARD, emphasis on the last syllable. The weather people are calling it a BOMB CYCLONE, which is such an overdramatic touch I can’t help but laugh.
Lord Jesus, what will they think of next.

We’ve had to close the church but our roof is new and I have confidence in it, although of course I’m worried about all our folks and their kids and their chickens — parishioners down the street are bringing theirs in to wait it out in the basement. This seems like it would be pretty challenging so I’ll probably head over tomorrow to take a peek and offer some libations or cabbage soup.

Ministry does go on even in the worst of weather conditions, which reminds me of a friend who had a commital to do today in New York state, where the weather is just as bad as it is here in eastern MA. I wondered if perhaps there was a would be a way for her to remain in a car and say the appropriate prayers over a loudspeaker while all the bereaved cracked their windows to hear her, but of course that was just wishful thinking trying to spare her a mouthful of snow and the mourners a mighty bleak farewell with possible pneumonia after the fact. What a sorry time to lose a loved one, and my heart is with them.
God bless the gravediggers, too, which is a grim job indeed, and how do they even get through the frozen ground? Truly a job that “someone’s gotta do,” for which I hope they are very well-compensated.

My colleague wondered about wearing a stole over her coat and I didn’t think that was necessary at all, given that it would take all her attention just to read the rites in wet squalling winds and she didn’t need a stole flying all over the place and potentially wacking her about the head. A mutual friend recommended putting her readings in plastic covers. Those of you who have done the priestly honors in such dire conditions, would you comment about how you handled the elements and your prayerbooks or folios? I am not sure what I would do — does a Kindle work in the wet snow? I hope I never have to find out.

But let’s talk outerwear. I know that some of you serve in traditions that include the cloak, a mighty fancy garment about which I admit some degree of envy.


I will have to make do with my funnel neck style overcoat which did prove exceptionally warm and protective during a recent very cold commital.

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 6.13.17 PM

It looks similar to the Cole Haan number above, which I saw on sale at Zulily today right here. (I buy a lot of things from Zulily and I recommend them for deals. Always let Google be your friend and double check the price other sites because sometimes Zulily isn’t the bargain it claims to be. You can’t return things and they take awhile to arrive but overall I have been very happy with my purchases and customer service. I’ve made out with some excellent deals over the years and very few disappointments)

A funnel neck is elegant and classic and professional. It renders a big bulky scarf unnecessary and one could, if one wanted, drape a stole nicely around it.

Next up: hats!

Black Tie Optional Wedding

When I first meet with the wedding couple I am always sure to ask about the dress code right away, because I wouldn’t want to turn up in one of those holy communion Dresses and make a gaffe. It gives me a sense of the scale of the event, and if I’m attending the reception, I have to actually think about not only the ceremony but the afterward, public ministry part.

I know.
No one who has been in ministry for twenty years thinks of a wedding reception as a grand old time, but we do it when we’re connected to the family. My practice is to give a nice, brief blessing over the meal if asked, eat something, try to make some friendly conversation at the inevitable “leftovers” table, keep the “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “I don’t believe in organized religion” or “Could you explain what a Unitarian Universalist is” conversation BRIEF, relax as best I can, and leave at cake cutting time.I like to sign the marriage license at dessert – it’s a nice, fun moment.

Doing weddings is tiring. We are at work. It is work. People don’t have any idea that it’s work, so protect yourself. You often have a full weekend of church ahead of you and may have even driven a significant distance to do the nuptials.

The worst dress code for clergy women, IMHO, is black tie or black tie optional. Men can, and should, wear their best suit and clericals. Robe for the ceremony and you’re all set. You should be really spiffed up and attend carefully to your grooming so that you’re not a disheveled embarrassment in photos with tuxedo’s and evening gown’d couples and their attendants.


Women and femme people should, in theory, be able to add a bit of bling to a stunning black suit, but few of us own suits that are formal enough to do the job. Most of our suits are kind of frumpy. Mine are fine for professional appearances and funerals but they’re NOT semi-formal, which is a next level in cut, fit and fabric. So I always make sure I have one cocktail dress on hand for semi-formals, and although they’re not really dressy enough, they’re acceptable.

I am a minister. I don’t do sequins and shiny fabrics. Save those — clingy and cleavagey — for your own fancy nights out.

What I do to make sure I’m not going to frumpify wedding photos is to spend more time on my “head” — the fashion critic shorthand for hair and make-up. It is aesthetically jarring when I see photos of women all glammed up and the minister is bare faced and has floppy hair casually thrown back in a barrette or unstyled. Please make an effort!

This look took me twenty minutes. I’m wearing foundation, shimmer highlight, a smoky eye, eyebrows, blush and lipgloss (I’ll do a full lip later, closer to the ceremony). I worked dry shampoo through my hair and put it up in a French twist:

Photo on 9-22-17 at 3.08 PM #3
This is my “I’m honestly and truly super happy for you but it’s lousy out and I wish I could be home watching ‘Game of Thrones AND at your wedding” smile.

The earrings I’m wearing are a lot smaller and more low-key than I would pair with this outfit if I wasn’t doing a wedding, but statement earrings and robes look silly on me. I might switch them out for the reception.

Here’s my final outfit after having torn apart my dressing room trying on outfits and agonizing over what shoes to wear. I decided on boots. BOOTS ARE NOT appropriate for black tie but I’m working. My feet have been hurting this week. I don’t want to wear heels and the rest of my outfit is dark, seasonally appropriate and just fine. It’s raining like a maniac out there and I have a long drive. I put some bling around my neck so that I’ll look dressier for the inevitable reception table photo. So — boots. These boots. I shined them up, of course! I decided against my dressier pair because they keep ripping my panythose and I don’t want to wear opaque tights.

Click to enlarge

Off I go. The bride is Albanian and I want to practice a few phrases before I get into the car.