An old friend of mine is a minister in that blessed and historical Christian tradition, the Brobdingnagian Reformed Church. The issues they face are giant in complexity and importance. It is heartening to see that we are not the only church that is struggling with the doctrinal impact of our canons on the mission and pastoral life of the church. He sent me an extract from a recent missive that he received from the horse and cart of the privatized Brobdingnagian Regal Mail 24 week guaranteed delivery driver:
The General Assembly of the Brobdingnagian Reformed Church
Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the prevalence and acceptance of the wearing of Christmas jumpers in contemporary culture.
The Brobdingnagian people have become greatly engaged in recent years with the modern practice of the purchase and wearing of garish, tasteless Christmas jumpers. The Brobdingnagian Reformed Church (BRC) is always conscious of its missional position in modern Brobdingnagian culture, so is willing to engage vigorously and openly with a period of discussion regarding its understanding of the wearing of Christmas jumpers in the life of the church. Pending the conclusion of this period of discussion, this guidance has been produced to support and inform clergy and lay readers, as public representatives of the Church, in the exercise of their ministries and in their provision of pastoral care.
Some churches and other religious bodies have an explicit doctrinal understanding of clerical vesture, and the increasing acceptance of Christmas jumpers, therefore, potentially gives rise to a number of issues for such bodies. The doctrine of vesture for public services of the BRC, as currently expressed in Canon 34 of the Code of Canons, is that “it shall suffice that Priests and Deacons be vested in surplices.” The canon reminds us that “sundry inconveniences do often arise from sudden changes in local uses thereof.”
The church recognises that the possibility of donning a Christmas jumper exists as much for clergy and lay readers as for any other member of the population. Clergy and lay readers are, of course, authorised public representatives of the BRC. At the time of their ordination and upon any subsequent appointment, clergy promise to render due obedience to the Code of Canons. Lay readers also undertake to adhere to the BRC’s doctrine and act under the direction of their presbytery.
As things stand, a clergyperson or lay reader who chooses to don a Christmas jumper for public services will put themselves in a position outwith the BRC’s doctrinal understanding of vesture as expressed in Canon 34. While the BRC’s doctrinal understanding remains as currently expressed, the expectation of the presbyteries is that clergy and lay readers will not don a Christmas jumper for public services and that anyone considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.
Similarly, a candidate in the recruitment and selection process for ordination or lay readership who has donned, or is intending to don, a Christmas jumper for public services would be unable to promise obedience to the Canons. The presbyteries likewise expect candidates not to don a Christmas jumper for public services in the current situation and that any candidate considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.
Have a very merry Christmas
(but no Christmas jumpers…)