Church Is Different….or No More Blue Jeans In Church pt.2 (More Black Church Memories)

Since I keep talking about the things that the black church taught me, I guess I should mention the one thing that it taught me without using words.

Church IS different.

Church is not Sunday afternoon in the park with George. It is not a day at the mall. It is not a day at the playground…or the beach…or hanging out with friends at the neighborhood cafe.

Church is not like any other place that you go to or experience in your life. And since it’s not like any other place or experience, you should treat it like it is different.

The reason I said that “if I could have one rule” it would be about not wearing blue jeans in church is because I believe that clothing conveys an attitude. And the way I see too many people dressing for church conveys, to me, the attitude that they don’t care about the time and attention and effort that any number of people have put into creating that worship experience. What would the parishioners at the church where I’m interning think I felt about them if I showed up on any given Sunday in my overalls that have paint stains on them, a frayed t-shirt and my everyday tennis shoes with my hair barely combed? (if any of them are reading this I hope they know that that situation will never happen) So if it’s ok for parishioners to come to church having paid little attention or intention to their dress, what does that say to those of us who are trying to create a truly worshipful experience? Don’t the clothes you wear to church deserve the same time, attention and respect that you give to the clothes you wear to have lunch with your friends after church?

I’ll clarify this a little more…I am only talking about the hour to hour-and-a-half that you spend in church on Sunday (or Saturday for those of you who do church on Saturday). If you’re coming to the church on Tuesday evening or Thursday afternoon–that’s a different story. You’re there for a different reason.  But Church is different. And I don’t apologize for thinking that it’s different or for hoping that other people would see it as different too.

(All my thoughts about clothes and church are flexible. I’m not asking anybody to be decked out to the nines with the winter most of the country is having.)

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4 thoughts on “Church Is Different….or No More Blue Jeans In Church pt.2 (More Black Church Memories)

  1. Kim, looking at the responses, I think I see a large culture gap. Although I have to admit that the idea that Unitarians couldn’t afford to attend a traditional black church is certainly a hoot and a half.

  2. I have mixed feelings on this, Kim. On the one hand, I completely agree with you that worship services are something different in substance from pretty much everything else that goes on in a life. On the other hand, clothes snobbery, which is always a real risk where people are expected to dress at a level above the normal for church, is antithetical to everything good about church.

    I grew up being dressed in hand-me-down suits to go to church on Sunday morning from the time I was a little tyke. Then about the time I was in high school the dress code for about everything changed. And men started going to church without a jacket and tie, though jeans were still then too far out there for church wear (unless it was known that family finances precluded anything better, in which case even the hardest nosed busybody accepted it graciously).

    The last couple of Januaries, I’ve spent the month in Chicago and the weekends attending other (mostly non-UU) religious establishments. I’ve found that except for traditional synagogues and the most venerable Methodist church in the city, jeans are welcome and in evidence just about everywhere. Even among ultra-high-church Anglo-catholics a few jeans-wearers are to be found, though at St. James Episcopal Cathedral it’s more corporate casual than jeans at the lower end of the spectrum.

    And the most vibrant open/ contemporary worship in the – yes, mostly-white – downtown churches I visited, was among the churches that almost exclusively wore jeans.

    So I’m torn. I love liturgical formality and also love contemporary styles. I love more formal clothing for worship and yet love the open-door feel of informal wear. I guess it is a cultural thing. It is equally possible to worship in either setting. Which engenders the most worshipful experience depends on where you are culturally. And among young-adult downtown white church-goers, it seems the casualness of jeans allows more people to feel comfortable worshiping.

    If dressing with a greater degree of care than normal allows a person to approach the divine with less self-consciousness and greater openness to grace that otherwise, wonderful! If dressing casually means one is more concentrated on worship and less on externals and feels more welcome as they are, wonderful!

  3. I tend to be with you on this — I always dress up to do to church, even when I’m not working. But I have noticed regional differences, maybe some class differences, and lots of differences in local church cultures. Some random thoughts along these lines….

    Back when I was working in a lumberyard, and then as a carpenter, I always wore a jacket and tie to church. On my way to church I’d often run into Jumbo, a plumber I knew who went to the Catholic church across from my UU church, and he was always wearing a jacket and tie, too. It was the one day of the week I got to dress up. This was in the 80s and 90s.

    When I started working in churches, I’d see professional class people dressing down at church — blue jeans, shorts, etc. — though a few older women and men wore dresses and hats, or jackets and ties. I was a little taken aback by the people who dressed down, but figured this was their one day a week when they could dress down.

    I served one church that included a mix of socioeconomic classes and racial/ethnic groups. There, the professional class people wore everything from suits to jeans; the working class people dressed neatly, but no dresses or ties. The main thing I noticed was that everyone in that church obviously made an effort with their clothes — everyone was trying to look nice, maybe even look their best; the people who wore jeans had on jeans that were clean, not torn, and ironed.

    Now I’m in a Silicon Valley church. Just as in the surrounding culture, dress tends to be pretty informal, and very varied depending on ethnic/racial group you’re from. Given the surrounding culture, people are obviously making an effort to look nice when they come to church,. Given our ethnic/racial mix and geographical location, you might see people on Sunday morning who dress up by wearing a bolo tie, a regular tie, a dress and old-fashioned church hat, a sari, a pant suit, chinos and button down shirt, neat jeans, Madras shorts (hey, it’s California), etc. I suspect that the more you have a racial and ethnic stew in your church, the more variety you’ll see in church dress.

    I’m thinking, too, I’m seeing a trend back towards dressing up, even here in Silicon Valley, particularly among younger people.

  4. I own two pairs of nice pants. I have been out of work for almost four months. I can’t afford to go clothes shopping. I wear jeans to church.

    I always pair them with a polo shirt, or a button up, but that’s really all I have. I only have one pair of winter shoes, and they aren’t dressy at all. Since I have to walk to the train station, take the train, and then walk to the church, and it is winter in New England… I’m going to wear winter shoes.

    I don’t own a nice looking winter coat. Again, I own one winter coat. I’m going to wear it, even if it’s ugly, because it’s cold outside.

    But I go to church, even in my jeans and my crappy winter shoes, and I participate in the service. If I am leading any part I put on my once nice outfit. But I’m not going to wear that every week. It’s not practical.

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