It is ordination season in the Church of England and some candidates will be asking themselves “should I wear a stole?” I asked the same question when I was being ordained and in the end didn’t wear one. At the cathedral I was, therefore, the only one without a Miss World sash so I looked like I hadn’t properly graduated, like I might have failed my degree.
Since my ordination I have thought about the priestly garb and ecclesiastical tat and I may have come to a different decision given what I’ve preached on from Romans 12-16. I have not given up on an evangelical understanding of the role of the minister, I am against the theology of priesthood set out in Roman Catholic doctrine. I associate with sinners under grace as a teacher and preacher of God’s word rather than associating myself with Christ as his representative at a sacrificial mass. When it comes to church traditions I want to be careful to put into practice what Paul teaches on traditions in Romans. Paul’s primary focus is unity in Christ through faith which justifies sinners (Romans 3:24ff and 15:7). Strong believers must not crush weak believers’ faith by trampling over tradition where what is done is done to honour the Lord (Romans 14:5-7).
When it comes to the stole, I believe it might fall into the category of food sacrificed to idols and special feast days in Romans 14. I know it is nothing, only a piece of cloth, however, some people think it is special. The reason I may have changed my mind is because I think the decision needs to be taken in the context of the cohort with whom I am being ordained. I am convinced of God’s acceptance of me through faith in Christ as Saviour and want to ensure others have the same assurance.
If the cohort contains some believers whose grasp of justification by faith in Christ as Saviour is real but tentative, and the stole is just a decorative garment to them, then it is not my place to trample over their faith by being belligerent about pieces of coloured cloth. On the other hand, if my cohort is filled with rather more confident, strong minded Anglo-Catholic sorts whose faith in Christ is strong but so is their theology of priesthood then I’d go with my conscience and chose not to wear a stole. My conscience will not let me wear a stole where the “priest” is associates me with the office of Christ. If, at the “altar”, I am seen as his priest for the people I undo his glory. My proper place at the table is to be with the people, as all have sinned including me, and Christ alone is our priest.
If I chose to wear a stole, I would not buy one but borrow one, as there would be no other occasion where I would wear it. If none were available to borrow, I’d go without.
My only question is, have I got my categories right? Is a stole a matter of conscience or something else?