Well, perhaps that is not entirely
accurate. I did purchase a clerical robe just before Christmas,
a woman’s robe off the rack at Cokesbury that doesn’t fit and has
blood red piping that prohibits me from wearing it in my church.
I only bought it because I needed to spend my professional allowance
for the year and since I was a newly ordained pastor, I thought buying
a robe seemed like the way to go. Currently it is hanging in my
closet in a makeshift garment bag that the salesman fashioned with a
garbage sack. I may let it hang there forever, an expensive and
disintegrating token of affection towards the clerical garments I am
told to wear.
When I was ordained last year,
I showed up to the service in Texas without a robe or any plan for procuring
one. I think I believed that a robe would magically appear for
me. There would be a Fairy God-mother who would use her magic
wand to spin me up in a cloud of fairy dust, and out I would emerge,
encased in a black, wool evening gown and sequined pastor’s stole.
Or perhaps tiny bluebirds would each grab a corner and fly my new robe
in through the window, while small woodland creatures looked on and
whistled a happy tune.
Surprisingly, none of these
things happened. Instead, my friend laughed at me and said, “You
came to your ordination without a robe? Isn’t that like going
to your wedding without your wedding dress?”
So when I was ordained I was
wearing a twenty year-old Geneva-style robe that had been recently cast
aside by a pastor who had received her D.Min. and had purchased a new
one with doctoral stripes on the sleeves. It is too short and
in the pictures I look like a black marshmallow. I presided over
communion for the first time with my best friend, who is also a pastor
and was pregnant. She has a fitted woman’s robe and although
she was pregnant, I look much bigger than her in all the pictures, a
stupid injustice I will fully lament after I lose twenty pounds.
Luckily I work at a large church
with several pastors on staff, so every Sunday I borrow someone’s
robe for the service. Sometimes I can wear the associate pastor’s
robe, which is new and has pockets. But most of the time I wear
the robe of an ordained woman who is a full-time pastoral counselor
and rarely leads worship. The black velvet is fraying all over
the collar and down the front of the robe. Two of the clasps at
the top are completely gone, and one is hanging on, literally, by a
thread. It has no pockets and I almost always wear a dress to
church, so each week we have to rig the microphone pack at the back
of my neck. It’s uncomfortable and annoying but I have no plans
or desire to change anytime soon.
The other pastors are forever
asking me to purchase a robe for myself. But apparently I have
some strange and growing abhorrence toward buying one of these things.
I have no problem dumping money on books or facials or black Cole Haan
pumps, but I cannot make myself get my own robe.
It’s the double injustice
of the situation that really gets me. Most Presbyterian ministers
wear the Wesley or Geneva robes, giant things with shoulder pads that
make a football player look dainty. They do make these for women,
but I swear there is no difference in the style of the robe. Every
time I put it on, I can feel the layers of cloth swimming around my
neck, choking my speech and hiding my lack-of an Adam’s apple.
They are built to disguise my curves, to make me appear more like the
men on my left and right of the chancel.
But then there are those “woman”
robes that are more fitted and taper at the waist. These make
me feel like a fraction of a pastor, some diluted version who can’t
fill daddy’s big shoes. Plus, is this how we distinguish ourselves
from the male pastors, by dressing in something modeled off of the men’s
garment and calling attention to our breasts and hips?
These are illogical arguments,
I know. They probably point to some deep-seated issues of female
identity and a growing inferiority complex.
But I do not feel inferior
in worship. When I am leading or singing or preaching or praying,
all these fears and issues about what I am wearing fly out the window
on the wings of tiny bluebirds. I do not fear that my voice is
too high for the old men, or that people are looking at my legs rather
than my eyes, or that they are wondering when the Rev. Ms. Stacy Smith
will graduate to the Rev. Mrs. Stacy Smith. No, I am focused on
God, and on helping the congregation in their worship and praise, and
I love every minute of our boring, traditional, Presbyterian worship.
And afterwards, when I look
down at the scratchy black polyester and fraying velvet, I remember
that I am wearing someone else’s clothes, and that I cannot or will
not purchase my own.