Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uniform for Church?

I teach at a private school where the students are required to wear uniforms.  On Monday and Wednesday through Friday, young men may wear khaki pants (or shorts, weather providing) and a green polo shirt or anything else as long as it has the name of the school.  Young women may wear khakis, but are more encouraged to wear plaid skirts with a polo shirt or anything else with the name of the school. On Tuesdays, all students wear their formal uniforms which, for guys, are gray pants, button down white shirt and tie with a navy blazer.  Ladies are required to wear skirts, a white shirt with a navy blazer, and knee high socks.   Most of our school population observe these rules consistently. 

However, on certain days of the year, there are out-of-uniform days.  This may extend to only the kids in one particular grade as a reward or to the entire school prior to the winter holiday during their final exams or during homecoming week.  Every time there is an out-of-uniform day, there is an obvious decline in learning and in discipline in general.

My wife teaches at a public school; I did so as well.  We have both pondered the effects if a uniform policy were instituted at a public school like at the one she teaches.  I suggest that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  The two in particular "pros" are 1) teachers would not have to be forced into awkward positions to reprimand students for not dressing according to the established guidelines (I can attest that as a guy teacher trying to tell a young lady that the spaghetti strap strings are inappropriate or that her shirt is cut too low that too much of her cleavage is exposed or that her shorts are too short, such is really awkward and some women will even go so far as to suggest that you're some sort of pervert for even noticing) and 2) students will not be able to "bully" anyone who doesn't wear the "right" clothes.  Will that also lead to increased student learning?  I don't know, but I think that it should be tried before it is written off as ineffective.

Let's apply this standard to church and what we should wear.  Does God care?  I would like to think that our coming to church and worshiping and praying are more important to him than our choice of attire, but we have to remember that what goes on at church is a communal activity.  Throughout St. Paul's epistles, he exhorts his readers to not be stumbling blocks (Greek skandalon) to others  by keeping the  fasts or not, for example.  Should a uniform policy be adopted by any church as a way to prevent others from stumbling during church?

In a sense the church already has such a policy.  Priests are vested particularly to reflect their office before God as are deacons as are the taper bearers as are the chanters and readers.  Why for them and not for the laity?  The uniforms are signs of the work that the persons wearing them are doing.  What is the job of the laity?  Like everyone else, it is to pray.  Should they not be marked out in a way to indicate that?   I know that an Orthodox Christian would balk if he saw his priest during the Divine Liturgy in anything besides his vestments. 

There are many arguments which I will not rehash here as to why more formal attire should  not necessarily be expected of parishioners.  I would just say that if we take such care to choose our clothing for concerts, parties, receptions, business meetings, lounging around the house, working in the yard, etc., why would we not put the same thought into what we wear in the House of the Lord?  Would more praying be accomplished if all men wore at least khakis and a polo shirt and women wore dresses?  Would there be more reverence and less talking from the parishioners if men wore suits and women wore nice hats?  I don't believe there is any way to measure this.  Anything that may change may well have to be measured against the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As Orthodox Christians we are taught that everything in the Church is more than a mental activity. Our prayer life is more than a mental activity.  That's why we kiss icons, we cense the Church, we taste of the Body and Blood of Christ, we bow, we prostrate, we make the sign of the Cross.  Our Church's praxis is not one of Gnostic dualism, but where the body and soul come together in worship of God.  Shouldn't that also include the manner of our dress that is humble, not gaudy, and shows respect rather than receive attention?  And if we chose our clothes in such a manner would that not also translate to how we approach God in prayer while in His holy place?

I only have questions, no answers.  I seriously doubt my parish or any other parish for that matter would willingly let me do a study on that, as they should.  But if we emphasize comfort too much, how long before people start showing up in sweatpants or bathrobes with slippers on?

1 comment:

  1. While priests are vested quite the same from age to age and place to place- we lay people have a bit more flexibility. But if all people dressed as they would going to the nicest restaurant in town, we would all look respectable