In a legislative move which follows current practice rather than dictating it, the Synod of the Church of England has moved to relax the formal requirements for clerical attire during celebrations of the Eucharist, as well as weddings and funerals.
The C of E’s ruling body, the synod, meeting in York, has given final approval to a change in canon law on “the vesture of ordained and authorised ministers during the time of divine service”.
Clergy are currently required to wear traditional robes – a surplice or alb with scarf or stole – when taking communion or conducting one-off services such as weddings, funerals or baptisms.
On Monday, the synod rules that clergy could adopt different forms of dress, with the agreement of their parochial church council. Where there is disagreement, the bishop of the diocese will have the final say. For weddings, funerals and baptisms, the consent of the principal participants must be gained.
Traditional clerical robes date back centuries, but the rules have been increasingly ignored – especially in churches with modern, informal styles of worship.
One commenter worried that this could lead to clergy being co-opted into “themed weddings,” becoming color-coordinated with the bridesmaids. Others, however, pointed to the flexibility to dress appropriately for different settings and communities, particularly among young people for whom the formalities of the past might be an obstacle.
In practice, clergy have already adapted their dress as needed to different situations. The current legislative move will bring these developments within the letter of canon law.
Read more reactions at the Guardian.
Photo: a recent Chrism Mass at York Minster, via the Diocese of York on Facebook