My sister-in-law recently alerted me to a humorous announcement in the bulletin of her Catholic parish. The priest of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA, would like for his parishioners to know:
PLANS FOR PARISH SWIMMING POOL SCRAPPED!
After much study, our ﬁnance committee has determined it would not be feasible to construct an indoor swimming pool in our church. As a result, we can now announce with certainty that those who have been arriving for Mass as if dressed for the pool need not do so. Also, we hope to keep the air conditioning cranking until well into October. So you do not need to wear shorts, tube‐tops, spaghetti straps, camis, or mini shirts to Mass.
I hadn’t seen this bit of satire before, but it turns out that it is a variation of a joke that’s been floating around for at least a couple of years. Though the announcement is humorous, it seems that the priest’s complaint against casual dress is real. Why don’t people get dressed up for church anymore?
It’s not just the Catholics who have started wearing swimsuits to church. My Baptist tradition tends to be “low church,” and we started the slide towards casual dress a long time ago. Some Baptist churches still expect the pastor and maybe the deacons to wear a coat and maybe a tie, but most congregations have abandoned even a tacit dress code.
“Church shouldn’t be so stuffy.” “Let’s all get comfortable.” I can’t for the life of me understand how some folks are “comfortable” in skimpy clothing. We keep the air conditioning too cold for that. I find that in Houston July and August are the most important months for layering.
But it’s not just about comfort. Church is a place where you can be yourself. We encourage people to be “authentic.” We tell people, “Come as you are!” What people hear is, “Tasteful clothing is optional!” These days it’s important for everyone to be an individual who’s authentic, so it’s very important for us all to come to church in flip-flops and shorts. We want to show off our individual style that’s just like everyone else’s. And really shorts and flip-flops are so authentic. I mean, really, like, that’s who I am. I wear these to the office everyday. Don’t you?
But we mean it when we tell people to come as they are. The gospel tells us that we can’t clean ourselves up. God won’t be fooled by my bowtie. I’ll still be a mess no matter what I’m wearing. I suppose that there’s a gospel imperative for chucking the dress code. Come as you are. But wait; there’s more to the gospel.
The gospel also says that Christ doesn’t leave us as we are. He clothes us in his own righteousness. I think we can do something with this. I propose an addition to the liturgy (for my Baptist brothers, that’s a fancy word for “order of service”).
When a man or woman enters the church building dressed for a day at the beach or perhaps the gym, let us be ready. I propose that every congregation have white bathrobes at hand. You “came as you are” with bare shoulders or exposed thighs (I’m talking to men too). Your sins exposed for all to see (too many Oreos, tanning bed, body piercings, etc.). In order to symbolize being clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we will cover you with a spotless bathrobe. When we, sinners, come to Christ, he doesn’t leave us in our sins. Shouldn’t we do likewise for our brothers and sisters who come to church dressed in tank tops? After all, didn’t Christ say, “I was naked and you clothed me.” It’s our Christian duty to help. It’s our Christian duty to hand them a bathrobe.
And remember, Church should be comfortable. Nothing’s more cozy than a fluffy white bathrobe.
[Cross-posted at First Thoughts]