If you’ve been in 11:00 a.m. worship or watched our live stream recently, you might have noticed a change in my wardrobe. No, I’m not wearing skirts — a later discussion — but it does appear that I’m wearing a dress over my clothes. My new threads aren’t a robe, though. It’s called an alb (with an “a” like apple, not like Albany).
I’m here now to answer a couple of frequently asked questions I’ve been receiving since my alb made its appearance.
What are you wearing?
An alb is a white, ankle-length, linen tunic that is sometimes tied around the waist with a rope called a cincture. The alb was popularized in Roman times for use by early Christians during liturgical worship. Albs traditionally have a collar or are worn over a cassock, a black, ankle-length tunic that are worn by nuns or friars. Wearing an alb over a cassock in Texas would suffocate most people, so we wear albs with collars already attached. It was re-popularized in the late 20th century when Christians sought to reconnect with their early church roots.
Why are you wearing it?
Historically, leaders in the church wore robes for two reasons: 1) to distinguish worship from ordinary life, as something important; and 2) to remove the individuality of the leader so that the congregant’s focus is on God alone. Bill, Mikael, Rusty, and I wear robes at our formal service, 11:00 a.m., as a tradition. This is also why our choir wears robes.
Why is it white when Bill, Rusty, and Mikael’s are black or gray?
Traditionally the alb is white or ivory, symbolizing the white robes that the angels wore in the tomb of Christ, the purity of baptism, and the resurrection of Christ. Albs can be worn by anyone, clergy (ordained persons) or laity (non-ordained persons). The robe Mikael wears is different from Bill and Rusty’s because it isn’t a pulpit gown. His robe signifies his doctorate degree, and he wears it for the same reasons as listed above: to maintain a traditional appearance by worship leaders.
Why don’t you wear a stole?
In the United Methodist Church, stoles are a symbol of ordination. Elders, those called to order the daily life of the church, wear stoles that hang down the front of their robes in two parallel lines. This symbolizes the yoke of Christ. Bill and Rusty are elders and wear these stoles. Deacons, those called to be servants in the world and a bridge to the church, wear stoles that start at one shoulder and cross the body to meet at the hip. This symbolizes the servanthood of Christ. I am not ordained, so I don’t wear a stole. You’ll notice that Mikael’s robe isn’t actually a stole either because he is also laity — not ordained.
There are a lot of things we do in worship to bring the attention to God and not ourselves. What are some other things you notice in the sanctuary that draw your focus to God?