Clergy Collars and Robes

The Geneva style

One of the hallmarks of most American evangelical, holiness, and pentecostal groups has been a rejection of many of the rituals, accessories and methods of what they termed the "mainline churches."   These groups were seen as more formal, ritualistic, cold, and dead to spiritual renewal or vitality.  As they left, or where asked to leave, more formal churches using these robes, liturgies and structures, they decried them and their value to the new vital faith they were discovering.

As a result, for most of the 20th century a large majority of evangelicals, holiness and pentecostal groups shunned the wearing of robes, the use of printed liturgies, printed prayers and similar things.  This is ironic considering that as much as they might point to the spiritual dynamic of the rejection of Martin Luther to the cold faith of Catholicism, the use of those robes, those liturgies, and those printed prayers stemmed from the Protestant Reformation.

It was the ministerial rejection of the worship styles of the Catholic church that led to the use of a simple pulpit robe based on the everyday academic wear of many of the reformation leaders.  Instead of the formal, and often highly ornate, vestments (alb, cossack, and stole) the simple "Geneva style black robe" worn in the classroom reflected the everyday garb of the minister.  Instead of the Latin liturgy used in the Catholic Church the worship, prayers, and songs were in the language of the land (Germany, Switzerland, England, etc.).

John Wesley in robe, clerical shirt and Geneva tabs.
The black garb also was used as a anti-clerical fashion choice as England's Queen Elizabeth 1, as head of the Church of England, standardized the vestments of the Church.  The choice of white robes made the obvious rebellious free church choice the black style made popular in Europe and hailing from the area of Geneva.

John Wesley explained the use of the black robe as a means of divesting attention on the one in the pulpit and onto God.   He preached several sermons on the men and women whose entire attention was on adorning themselves to be seen, envied, and admired.  Wesley felt there was simply need for the clergy to disappear so Christ could be made more visible. No distractions to turn the thirsty heart from the living water of Christian faith. No room for vanity, pride, or self in the high calling of the Gospel.

So it ironic in the 20th century to see the minimizing and humble black robe be rejected by another population of those reforming the Christian faith.   It is also ironic to see some of those same groups adopting in their worship some of those same highly ornate, colorful, and expensive vestments their ancestors had rebelled against centuries earlier.


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