I have just had the opportunity to deacon at the Cathedral. (Is there a verb ‘to deacon’? I’m not sure)
I enjoyed it immensely and hopefully didn’t disgrace myself, I think I was only in the wrong place at the wrong time just the once, or maybe it was twice?
There’s an awful lot to wear and quite a bit of it is linguistically challenging.
First layer is ordinary clothes: if I’d have known how layered up I was going to be I wouldn’t have worn the thermal vest but by the time you have put on three more layers on top and the service starts in five minutes, it’s too late to say, ‘can I just pop to the Ladies and take off my vest’?
Next the cassock – aka ‘the long black one’, not to be confused with hassocks (thick kneeling cushions also frequently found in churches but not generally very adaptable as garments).
Then there was the surplice (aka ‘the white floaty one’) but, oops, this was surplus to requirements and was discarded in favour of an alb (long, white, with hood and cord belt, think Friar Tuck)
Then a stole (a long scarf, worn shoulder to hip) – I’m not sure why it was there, once the top layer was on, no-one ever saw it again.
And finally a dalmatic, which sounds like it ought to be a female version of a dogmatic, but is in fact another neck to floor tunic with long sleeves which completely covers all the previously mentioned layers but is much more colourful.
Anyway, feeling slightly like a michelin man, I fulfilled my duties without any huge disasters. I remembered to walk in straight lines (diagonal lines are not so tidy) and turned and bowed in neatly choreographed unison. I understand that all this is fitting and doing things in an untidy way does not enhance worship but it did all seem a lot to remember.
There is a time and place for everything and don’t get me wrong I love the way we do Cathedral worship, I love the ceremony and I understand that there are historical, cultural and yes, even scriptural reasons for the wearing of robes. It is a style of worship that is reaching more and more as numbers attending cathedral services have increased. But it is all very far removed from my choice of attire at ‘Messy Church’ where month on month 70-80 people who would never dream of entering a local church let alone a cathedral come and hear the story of God, pray and ‘do business with God’ in ways accessible to even the youngest (eg scribbling ‘a mess’ on a piece of paper and throwing it in the bin as ‘prayer of confession’). At messy church I wear jeans and a shirt (often, but not always, a clerical shirt because visual signals matter and I am their minister). At Messy church there is no processing (we blow a bicycle horn to call people to come and sit down!), there is very little silence and eloquent, erudite sermons are not required. Messy Church requires all the gifts I don’t have and uses none of the ones I do! But I love it. The challenge is that somewhere in the welcome, the meal, the conversations and connections, the simplest of illustrations will plant a seed of an idea: maybe there is a God, maybe he does know me and maybe even loves me.