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The Question of Stoles

An on-line Discussion Wednesday, December 14, 2011 What a strange power there is in clothing notes Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer. My internship churchs customs around the use of stoles differs from my home church. I was curious what my colleagues were experiencing and how they thought about this strange power of clothing. I asked the question of our on-line UU mins2b user group. If you robe for a service or ceremony, do you also wear a stole or does the stole indicate ordination in your community? The response was a rich, lively discussion that was as varied and colorful as the stoles you find around the necks of Unitarian ministers around the world. Whether they serve as a sign of ordination is at the heart of my question and of the conversation. Naturally, the meaning of ordination itself needed to be parsed. History, theology, tradition, custom, situation, and polity inform the range of answers. Congregation size and ethos also explain the variety of answers I come from a formal, large church, All Souls in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a wearing a stole is limited to ordained clergy. Over the summer, after receiving my Masters of Divinity, I wanted the various UU churches around the area where I preached to know I was different from the last time I had been in their pulpit so I wore my academic hood. I explained why when I said hello to the congregation from the pulpit. At my current church, First Unitarian in Oklahoma City, the customs are less formal. I was encouraged to wear a stole my first time up on the chancel. I did twice. The stole did indeed carry a strange power. I felt I had crossed a boundary I was not ready to cross. I have returned to wearing my academic hood when I am robed and am likely to continue until I am ordained. I look forward to passing over my neck the strange power of beauty, colors, textures, and symbols to join my ordained contemporaries. Cathey Edwards Intern Minister 1st Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City *** Below is a lightly edited version of that on-line discussion: Ahhh, the thorny robe & stole question! Last year I did an internship in a fairly large church where wearing a robe was expected. My internship supervisor requested that I wear a stole on those occasions when I was wearing the 'mantel' of minister; weddings, child dedications, funerals/memorials. So that has been my practice. I also wear a stole for those occasions when I am not robed and just wearing a suit. Most of the congregations where I provide pulpit supply are small and very informal - so I don't wear robe or stole - just a suit, although usually with a scarf. The scarf is entirely for me - reminding me that I do not walk or speak alone, but as one in a long line of ministers - a 'cloud of witnesses'. (Michelle Buhite) Ahhh, the old "looks like a stole but it's really just a scarf" trick. I believe our intern at First Dallas last year did that, as well. A robe with a scarf, that is. Not sure if most people in the pews could tell the difference - probably looked like a stole, walked like a stole and quacked like a

stole to them. I don't know. I completely agree with the practice of us wearing stoles when, as you so beautifully put it, Michelle, we are "wearing the 'mantel' of minister" for members' rites of passage. I feel pretty strongly that we should not wear a stole until we are ordained, as that's what it means in our tradition. But, I know there is no hard and fast rule about this. As for scarves, I don't know. I'm just not a scarf kind of a person. I like that it serves to remind you of the "great cloud of witnesses" who came before us. (Scottie McIntyre Johnson) I'll be the person with a strong opinion on this, for whatever it's worth: Don't wear a stole. If ordination matters to you, it should matter to you that you not pretend to be ordained, and make no mistake, that's what wearing a stole means. You wouldn't put "the Rev." before your name if you aren't ordained, and you shouldn't wear a stole either. There are plenty of reasons one might want to, but I don't think you should. (Christian Schmidt) HmmmIf we abide by congregational polity and the congregation is its own authority then it stands to reason if the congregation gives the intern authority to wear the stole then what prohibition is being violated? Yes, I understand the stole to represent the "yoke" of ministry and to the extent this is respected and congregational authority has been expressed then there is nothing countermanding the wearing of the stole. There was nothing found in the UUMA code of professional conduct that speaks to this. It all seems a question of tradition and experience and this is unique to every congregation. (Carlos Martinez) Carlos, you have brought up a complex issue. Does congregational polity mean that any congregation can do whatever it wants (albeit wearing a stole or not is hardly the most important issue we could talk about)? I don't think so. I also don't think it means that all of our congregations have their own unique tradition, at least exclusively. They have some things unique about each of them, but we also share a tradition. And that tradition, which comes out of the Reformation, is that stoles are worn by ordained clergy. It also speaks to how we see ourselves as ministers. Are we only ministers of the church we currently serve, or are we part of a larger faith and responsible to it as well? I think the second, which is why I would be hesitant to do something just because my current church wants it even though I have hesitations about it in the larger picture. It's a balancing act, certainly. (Christian Schmidt) As ministers, we're called to something larger than just the congregations we're serving. I am serving as the part-time Consulting Minister of a small UU Christian congregation. I wore a robe through my internship in a similar (though much larger) congregation but did not wear a stole and still don't during regular services (to include funerals). That being said, I HAVE worn a stole three times. The first was during their 2010 Christmas Eve service - when ours is the only Protestant Christmas Eve service in the area and hundreds arrive from the surrounding community - so it was beyond just that congregation with a usual attendance in the 30's. The other two times were for military weddings. I am serving as a Chaplain Candidate with the Army National Guard. Because I'm not a full Chaplain, I do not wear the cross (at this time UU's still fall under the Protestant branch according to military ecclesiastical endorsing policy). Though in uniform, there was nothing else that distinguished me from others - both weddings included other folks in uniform! And so, I wore a borrowed stole with the Army emblem on its ends. For the second wedding, the stole was actually used in a Celtic knot tying ceremony reflecting the invitation of the divine, by the couple, into their marriage. All three of these instances I was serving as the primary religious and ministerial leadership to a larger public beyond the congregation I am serving. I wore neither stole nor robe for the two committals I have done. (Kelly Pickens)

I submit to all who are interested in this conversation that the stole is an appropriation of the tallit which comes from the Jewish tradition. Its use is rooted in the Bible and as I understand it, its intention is to be an outward expression of a devotion to God. Here is a quick reference for those who are interested. If others have better or contrary references I (for one) would be interested in knowing of them. (Carlos R. Martinez) The stole comes, in our trajectory, through Catholicism and then Protestantism. The thing that struck me from a different Wikipedia article ( was the assertion that "the stole symbolizes the bonds and fetters with which Jesus was bound during his Passion" or that it symbolizes the "Great Commission." Both of these are clearly Christocentric concepts. Does that matter? I don't know. The truth is UUism grew out of protestant denominations, and that in that sense, yes, the stole is a "commission of office," or a "yoke of ministry." But I have to agree with Carlos -- because Unitarian Universalism has re-imagined itself as a non-Christian faith, there has to be room for re-imagination of the place of the stole in our congregations. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be a mark of ordination, but that it clearly can't be considered one at the current moment, since there is no UUMA requirement that so states (or that's what has been said above, I personally don't know), and because UUs do not acquire their commission from Christ, but from their self-governing congregations. So I would have to agree that it is entirely up to the congregation whether the stole is a mark of ordination or not - at least until the UUA/UUMA has something to say about it. (Marlyn Miller) UU's do not exist in a vacuum. We are not the only congregational denomination or association. This is also true for Baptists, the UCC, etc. In the larger context, a stole is understood to represent ordained ministry. I have never had a proper stole (choir stoles: yes) around my neck, and I will not until the moment I am ordained. My daughter gave me a stole for Christmas last year, which moved me to tears, because it was her way of telling me that she has faith in my journey and that I will be ordained - but I haven't even tried it on. I think that if the stole has no meaning for us, then we shouldn't be wearing it at all. For me, it has great meaning. It is the yoke "his yoke is easy and his burden is light" - nevertheless, I will not feel its weight until I am ordained. (Madelyn Campbell) When Canada introduced lay chaplains (members of the congregation authorized to perform rites of passage ceremonies registered with our provincial government), there was a huge discussion around their ability to wear stoles. The ministers were against the idea saying that it was a rite given at ordination. They do the scarf thing, and that's what I did when I performed a wedding. DRE's at one event made their own stole, which was a silk screened scarf, and I've also observed trained youth chaplains (peer listeners at youth events) wear them (both youth and adult). (Samaya Oakley) My two cents: For me personally I'm more interested in what the symbolism is to the congregation. I don't want them to see me as ordained clergy because I'm not yet. I want them to see me as someone who is in process and learning. (Nathan Ryan) A recommendation for resources about clerical stoles was asked of Susan Ritchie and she responded with this suggestion: The Oxford History of Christian Worship (David Pettee)

As for me, I find the early Puritan understanding of ordination as an election to call rather than a sacred rite for life much more in tune with my gut. I find the idea that ordination is a rite that marks one for life far too sacerdotal for me. I even have trouble understanding what ordination means after one leaves a called position before one is called to a new position. I'm sure those of you who have studied with Susan Ritchie at Starr King know of her informed opinion that the stole is a direct descendant of the Roman scarf of office bestowed when clergy became officials of the Empire. That whole yoke and washing feet and tallit justification was added later. So...basically I see most of what we wear as drag. We have the most direct and confirmed relationship with the academic robe (which always feels a bit elitist to me...darn Unitarians) but many people wear robes from other traditions that really are less "ours" (in a direct lineage way rather than "ours" in a "we are inspired by all religious traditions" kind of way) and, besides, I am not really excited about empire. But, drag is about performance and about how we're seen and I'll play, but I just can't get as serious about all this as some of you who refuse to wear a stole before ordination! I give couples at weddings and families at memorial services a lot of say in what I wear. So long as their theology of what we're doing together is within the bounds of what I can do with integrity, it's more important that my dress fits their theology, than that I insist on one kind of appearance. (Ellen Carvill-Ziemer) I share what I take to be a very similar gut feeling regarding the association of ordination with the election/call to a specific relationship with a specific congregation, and I too have an inclination to seek ordination to each new relationship. I am hard-pressed to understand what of permanent significance is otherwise conferred upon ordination in the liberal religious realm. Yes, others have explained ordination to me as a pragmatic reality, as the tradition's recognition on behalf of and to the congregation-line-crossing benefit of the larger association. But my intuitive gut reaction remains. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that my lived experience was one of being called out of and ordained by my congregation. Still mulling this question...I would also like to note the liveliness of this conversation and the emotional energy around it, and to lift up the wonderful and valuable power of symbol. Having been raised Catholic, I grew to value the extraordinary power of symbol and find that I seek always to draw upon and strengthen the power of symbol in my current religious contexts. For that reason, the tonal quality of this conversation around the stoles is exciting to me, independent of any specific landing points. (Kevin Tarsa) The only issue that I haven't heard addressed when talking about ordination being a one-on-one relationship with a congregation is the place of community ministers. Their (our) relationships are often with transitory groups of people - sometimes for only a single encounter. The covenant of a community minister is to bring the truth of our principles out into the wider world. The recognition of ordination is an important part of this identity - a recognition that ordained ministry brings with it preparation, experience, and the ability to look at the world through theological eyes. I do believe that my formation as a minister has given me a different perspective on the world and that is a gift I will bring wherever I go - whether I am in a called relationship with a congregation or not. As for stoles, I wore one as a mark of the authority vested in me by my internship church when I performed weddings and unions outside of the church, but not in any other situations. It's not magic or inviolable, but it is a measure of respect I want to hold for the symbol of ordination which most UU's understand it to be. As in almost everything that life offers us, there is no hard and fast, one size fits all rule; there is the intention to walk together in conversation and respect, always attempting to act from those values. (Pam Rumancik)

I understand completely that it is a single congregation that ordains, but I can't agree that one must be ordained by each new congregation one serves, over and over. My understanding is that since a particular congregation has ordained you, no one else can remove that ordination except that particular congregation. Even ministers who are dis-fellowshipped by the MFC do not lose their title of "Rev.", unless, I assume, the congregation which voted to ordain them should vote to "un-ordain" them. (Which would be an appropriate thing to do, in some cases) What do you say to the UU community minister who serves as a chaplain or with a social justice agency? To my way of thinking, Kevin's "lived experience...of being called out of and ordained by [his] congregation" embodies our system in the most perfect way. I believe we should be ordained by the congregation that has had some significant role in our emergence as a "preaching elder". That may be one's home congregation, one's intern congregation, the first congregation one serves, or, conceivably, some other congregation with which one has some significant relationship I haven't thought of. Then -- you are ordained, for once and for all, to serve the faith wherever that may be. Yes, a congregation initially recognizes the internal call we have felt and our suitability for ministry, but, surely, the call is to something greater than simply one group of people in one locality at one period of time? I think it might be better for us to talk not of "serving" a particular congregation but of "serving through" a particular congregation, institution, organization, agency or whatever it may be. (Scottie McIntyre Johnson) The notion that ordination was/is limited--linked to the call of a singular congregation--is consistent with our early Standing Order history in New England. But it didn't develop into tradition because in that early period, ministers were called out of the congregation and then stayed there for the rest of their lives, with rare exceptions. No congregation had the power to ordain a minister for another congregation--I expect that was the underlying, fiercely Separatist notion, which isn't to say that you're wrong. Just as it was the long term tradition that Unitarian clergy were ordained by the congregation that called them. But we now have moved to a different understanding, where most seem to be being ordained by congregations that they come out of, were sponsored by, or perhaps where they were intern minister (some still specifically adhere to the older tradition). The MFC can't ordain--and thus can't strip ordination. It has no place, no role, no authority, no business in that (the UUA bylaws are quite clear about the authority to ordain). IF the authority rests anywhere; if a UU can be stripped of ordination, it'd be by the congregation that ordained that minister. Had we developed differently, with that old Standing Order expectation in place, we'd be free of the problem--once a congregation revoked the call of a minister, the ordination would also have ended. And in that case, our relationship with community ministry would be different (perhaps healthier--the only way to make it work would then be for such a minister to be linked to a specific congregation, and the community work would be a ministry from that congregation, even if shared with community ministers from other congregations). We've adopted--readopted--a notion of an ordination conferring something that's permanent. Whether we mean it or believe it, we *act* as if it is a sacrament. And I really don't think that the vast majority of UUs would agree with that. (Patrick McLaughlin) I have asked Susan Ritchie to weigh in. Susan teaches UU history at Starr King School, and in her spare time, also serves on the UUA Board of Trustees. She writes, Strictly speaking, the stole in the Protestant tradition means the authority to perform the sacraments, which usually but not necessarily aligns with ordination. It is entirely unclear to me what it means to wear a stole in a nonsacerdotal tradition such as ours. The first Us or Us to wear the stole were the Universalist Humiliati in the 1950s, and of course, they were intentionally trying to import into U a catholic sense of sacramentalism. The stole comes into the church through Constantine, where it was the badge of imperial office (hard to feel good about that).

The assigned meaning in Christian settings is that it is the yoke of office, meant to invoke the cloth Jesus used to wash the disciple's feet. (David Pettee) Here's why I can't go with the ordination for life bit: Ordination is the rite by which a congregation affirms a calling to ministry. In a Christian free church context we would say that the congregation discerns and affirms the individual's calling by God. We lack two things that a Christian free church has. We lack a shared theology of the divine and we lack a skill set of spiritual discernment to listen to a higher power than ourselves. (As a Quaker-UU hybrid I see possibilities for what we might develop, but as of now, we lack one). So, as I see it, a UU congregation has no shared understanding or discernment possible to discern a larger calling to serve a particular vision of the holy. A UU congregation CAN however, discern and affirm a specific calling. I mean to include community ministers in this, too, in that it seems pretty clear that our community ministries are healthiest when those ministers have a relationship with a UU congregation who affirms and supports their call. I know I'm swimming upstream here. I know ministers don't want to let go of the "Rev", which I see as a need to cling to a certain professional identity, which can be shown to develop most in times when ministers' power is waning. Sure, you're a minister for life--got the degree, got the fellowship, heard the call that came to your heart. But the ordained for life? I'm sure we don't have the shared theology to justify it and I'm pretty sure we don't have the shared theology to make sense of such a sacerdotal sacrament anyway. By the way, I'm not sure UU does in general (as in the average person in our pews) have any shared understanding of the meaning of the stole at all. They bring a range of understandings from growing up in UU fellowships to growing up Catholic and I think generally apply those inarticulate assumptions. I don't think, though, we should reject "the people's" understandings of things because we the ministers have a better one. We need a better way of listening! (Ellen Carvill-Ziemer) The critical phrase in Susan's comment seems to me to be "The assigned meaning...." Obviously, a symbol means whatever the people who employ it want it to mean. Look at the people assembled on stage at any GA, processing for various congregational ceremonies, etc. and it cannot be denied that, in some way, for us, ordination is the meaning we have assigned it, in most circumstances. Another question for us, of course, is "who is 'we'?" When a congregation (or more likely, the supervising minister of that congregation) decides that a non-ordained intern minister can and should wear a stole in certain circumstances, they/he/she are the "we". When one of us decides to wear or not wear a stole, the "we" assigning the meaning to the symbol is really an "I". Of course, as Ellen pointed out, various UU and non-UU people who see our clergy wearing a stole are assigning their own meanings to it, quite independently, but perhaps in some cases, informed by our own. (Scottie Johnson) I do not wear a stole. For me, there's an element of practicality and education (for others): I preach at several non-ministered congregations. They often do not value professional ministry, and most people have only the slightest inkling how one "becomes" a minister. Additionally, for those I speak at regularly (including my home congregation), I feel the responsibility of not holding myself out as a minister. The stole, at least here in the SW, is a visual clue between an ordained minister and one who is in process to be an ordained minister. When I finally put one on (God, the MFC and an ordaining congregation willing!) it will signify the culmination of all these years they've watched me struggle through seminary. (Joanna Fontaine Crawford) We're talking about very particular traditions. The Puritan tradition was a powerful, but very specific one: a member who was seen to have gifts was chosen from within that congregation,

perhaps given some training, and then served that congregation for his (and I use his advisedly in this instance) entire ministry. Some churches still do this: a handful in our tradition and in others like some Baptist churches. But I imagine very few of us have been called out by our own congregations and intend to serve there for our entire ministries, or at all. Interestingly, the Cambridge Platform seems to take a middle ground on this because of an important theological argument. It certainly emphasizes and affirms that officers are called by and to a specific church. But it also says (see Article IX, Section 6 and 7) that ministers are called not just to minister to one flock, but to the church universal. This is really important. Though my ordination will be voted on by one congregation, and I will serve only at particular churches who vote to call me, I understand my ministry to be to the church universal (that is, to all believers, wherever they may be). Thus, though I will be installed at each church which calls me, and will have hands laid upon me at each, I will be ordained once (God willing, since it hasn't happened yet). As for community ministers, I think it's important to remember that community ministers are, or at least should be, affiliated with a particular UU church. They are ministers of that church, serving a ministry that does not take place within the walls of the building. (Christian Schmidt) As someone who hopes to enter chaplaincy - most likely hospital chaplaincy, I can tell you that it is considered community ministry. And to be in fellowship with the UUA, it requires one to be affiliated with a congregation. (Madelyn Campbell) I'm with Christian on this -- no ordination: no Rev., no stole. The only time I've worn anything like a stole was when I was in a choir or chorus that had colorful pseudo stoles as part of our uniform attire. My solution has been a long jacket I made from this pattern: I modified it to be reversible, with slits on the sides instead of pockets, so I could reach in to my pants pockets. I also made it with only one fabric on each side, plus the black trim as shown. I can wear only natural fibers, so it is 100% cotton, with batik prints. With subdued black and white dragonflies on one side and a more vibrant red/pink mlange on the other, I pick the side according to the occasion. I have a strong preference for hybrids. This is a middle ground that works for me. (Marnie Singer)