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Designing Clergy Robes across Religions

I was not familiar with Baptist ministers wearing clergy robes until I moved to the east coast. The first time I saw it I even wondered if they were true Baptists! Well, yes, my horizon has significantly broadened since those early days of ministry.

I decided I quite liked the wearing of robes for multiple reasons. As a woman in ministry, I felt the robes helped keep the focus on the participation in worship and not on whether or not the person in the pulpit was a man or a woman. As a woman in ministry, it is always easier to don a robe than to worry about if what you are wearing is appropriate or would be a distraction. I personally participate in and enjoy many forms of worship. But the more formal worship that tends to go along with the wearing of robes, became for me deeply moving when returning from overseas. I liked the statement of reverence and order that the robe signified.

Each season of the church year, a minister wears a different colored stole. The color red for example is not for Christmas but for Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was represented by tongues of fire. As I observed, I realized that many ministers were making statements with their stoles. Embroidery and applique told stories and made certain emphases about the season. Stoles were unique to a minister’s personality and journey.

What does this have to do with Threads by Nomad? Some years ago I returned to West Africa with a woman clergy friend. She found a weave pattern at the fabric market and asked me if I would make her a stole. She wanted to wear something that would emphasize her compassion and regard for the whole world, not just her corner of the world. Not long after Threads by Nomad began and people saw our fabric, it was suggested that we make clergy stoles. We made gold, blue, and white. The response was wonderful. In wearing one of our stoles, clergy were demonstrating a love for and a solidarity with refugees, with those from other cultures, and with the right to all for a sustainable livelihood.

A few weeks ago we were approached about designing and making a robe for another woman clergy. She wanted to steer away from the traditional academic style robe with the big shoulders and lots of pleats. She wanted sleeves that she could easily serve communion in without getting them messed up. She wanted a pocket at the back! Women clergy often have to be careful to wear a skirt if they are speaking so a wireless mic can be attached. With a pocket for the mic, not only can she wear what best suits her even if it is a dress, but wires and the box are neatly hidden. We (Christen and I) insisted that she have deep pockets on the side as well. We made them big enough to slip some tissues into, perhaps some chap stick, and even a cell phone.

Desiring to make a statement of support for refugees and for the marginalized and forgotten, this clergy chose a set of stoles made out of fabric from West Africa. Besides our gold weave, she selected a variety of ‘bazin’ fabrics. For her purple/blue stole she opted to have one color on each side so that during that season whatever church she was officiating in she would have the right color.

Imagine my surprise when another female clergy friend who follows an eastern religion, contacted me because she too wanted a new robe. In her tradition, though women were clergy they did not have proper robes like the men. She came with specific instructions about what would be permitted. For her as well we were able to personalize it. We made the collar a bit more comfortable. We lined it with cotton so that when speaking outside it was more comfortable. We added a stole as well in the colors of her tradition. Again, we made it reversible so she can change the color according to the season. And of course, we added pockets!

Christen and I continue to be amazed at the projects that are brought to us. Making fur vests out of fur coats. Making pillows out of feed bags. Making a skirt for an inaugural ball. Even making dog beds! I am especially happy that we can contribute to the messages our clergy send out every week in designing and making robes and stoles. Too bad I only have a few years until retirement and don’t need to design a robe for myself!

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