When the best is good enough

With PeaceBang going full bore with how ministers should dress and groom, I thought I’d join in. You know I love it.

So what does the debate about pre-Reformation English liturgical styles have to do with a Unitarian Universalist (or other) minister of thin to midling means?

When certain members of the Church of England in the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries — e’en unto the present day — began realigning themselves with the catholic traditions of the Church Universal they faced a dilemma: do they pull from the traditions of pre-Reformation England, or the contemporary (if hardly modern) Roman style? Google “Sarum use” — a reference to Salisbury, also known as the “English use” — and you’ll get an eye full. In Washington, the big difference between the two Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian parishes is that one leans to Sarum and the other looks to Rome — but using the jargon — doesn’t “cross the Tiber.”

Ecumenically, the Roman option is far more potent. The Revised Common Lectionary derives from the Roman lectionary. The white-red-green-purple color scheme many of us know is also Roman. But the English use was more intuitive, less well codified, and in terms of vestment color practice (particularly in poorer places) boiled down to one of a set of dull colors for daily use, Lent, and Advent, and red, white, or gold for the other Sundays. In effect, “the everyday and the best” instead of a standard that, even as inherited by the Protestants, is as inflexible or worse than ever.

So call me English, for liturgical purposes. That might be a rubric Unitarian Universalist ministers and other liturgists can accept: an ordinary outfit (whatever that might be) with some kind of “upgrade option” for whatever the special occasions might be.

An example: a Clerk/Clergy or district/state tartan stole or scarf for everyday [Donald Wilson is blogging about a UU tartan] and a white and gold stole on the “up” times. Either over a black gown (Reformation legacy) or over an alb/cassock and surplice (catholic revival, Roman and English respectively).

Here’s a blog post from Canterbury Tales about English use colors.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 44, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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