Clothed in the spirit – Clergy stoles taking expressive forms

Bishops Deborah Lieder Kiesey of the Dakotas Area and Marcus Matthews of Upper New York gave the benediction during an evening worship service at General Conference in Tampa, Fla. UMNS PHOTO BY MIKE DUBOSE

Survey the clergy at any United Methodist gathering, and you’re likely to see stoles in a rainbow of colors, designs and fabrics. The trend has spawned a cottage industry and provided a new avenue of gifting for parishioners eager to offer something handmade and unique to pastors.

Read the full story here, courtesy of the United Methodist Reporter.


  1. Clothed in the spirit – Clergy stoles taking expressive forms

    On Sunday mornings, the Rev. Kenny Dickson dons his robes for the early service, a traditional Methodist worship. For the mid-morning gospel service, he wears a suit and tie. And for the late service, a contemporary worship, he preaches in shirt sleeves and slacks.

    But at all three services, Mr. Dickson wears a stole: a long band of cloth that signifies he is an ordained member of the United Methodist clergy.

    Stoles aren’t new—clergy have worn them as far back as the fourth century, and the garments’ symbolic roots are in the Bible.

    “Only ordained deacons and elders are to wear stoles,” he said. “That is solid Christian tradition that dates back at least to the fourth century.” The stoles, he added, recall the serving towel that Jesus used to wash the disciples’ feet, as well as the prophetic mantles worn by Elisha and Elijah.

    What are the origins of the stole, and what is its significance?

    If it is a prophetic mantle, it can see variety and self expressiveness.

    If it is a serving towel, then I would think simplicity might be the key.

    I though I read somewhere that it started with deacons as serving towel and worked itself up the hierarchy.

  2. I’m pretty sure there’s a whole website dedicated to this sort of thing.

    Today’s puzzler answer rhymes with forlorn after-dinner candies that also contain a mild throat lozenge.

    Need a hint?

    “Sad Breath-Mints Got Balm”

  3. Since we are on the topic? Doesn’t the stole come from the stripes of linen cloth sewn into the clothing of the priestly class of the ancient Roman empire? After the toga fell into disuse, the linen stripes of cloth were detached from their garments and used as a seperate garment over the sholders, but still signifying priestly status and authority? That’s my theory anyway. To all you liturgical experts. Would this theory hold any water?

  4. One has to be extraordinarly generous in granting the raiment shown above the status of stole: at least liturgical stoles, the which it seems implied that they are supposed to be.
    One sees more and more of this nebulous, ‘neither hot nor cold’, style of colouration which is devoid (purposefully, one can’t help but conclude) of any overt, distinct Christian symbolism. Like so much in our world of today, the message is wishy washy, incapable of offense, shamelessly innocuous, and, finally, just plain boring to look at. These are not Christian stoles. Maybe they would be fitting stoles for some wierd extraplanetary religion on Star Trek… or a Hollywood film.

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #4:
      “Maybe they would be fitting stoles for some wierd extraplanetary religion on Star Trek… or a Hollywood film.”
      It’s nice to know that eucumenicism isn’t dead! Maybe you should review last week’s discussion of multiculturalism.

  5. A brief venture into the RCC practice for a moment. I’d enjoy a discussion of the where and why of the trend, contrary to the rubrics, of placing stoles over the chasuble as opposed to under the same as directed. The chasuble/alb combination doesn’t seem to be convincing as the practice is maintained by some clerics when they are not wearing one of those combination vestments. Some see it as the outward sign of a liberal as opposed to a more Roman minded clelric. Maybe it is done by some in imitation of the mainline Protestant practice, it might be an excessive ecumenical gesture, it might be the result of a certain casual attitude.
    It also appears to be declining in frequency.

  6. I want to be very careful here, hoping I don’t have this wrong and apologizing if I do. I seem to recall having a discussion with Ben Stadelmaier of the Stadelmaier vestment firm of Holland about this. (Sadly, the company no longer exists.) He mentioned that he felt beautiful, integrated stoles should not be hidden under vestments. He purposely designed his stoles to be seen. The reputation of the firm in the 80’s and 90’s, and the wide of use of his vestments, no doubt encouraged this practice. (Check out old photos of what bishops in the 1980’s were wearing at mass.) Those who remember, or still wear, these stoles can attest to the way they complimented to chasuble. Not wishing to discuss rubrical correctness here, I did find the stoles attractive without calling attention to themselves.

  7. From the accompanying article:

    The Rev. Karin Tunnéll was one of those artists. The pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Odessa, Del., she made the stoles worn by Bishops Deborah Lieder Kiesey and Marcus Matthews on May 3. Reflecting the day’s Scripture passage—John 21, the story of Jesus preparing fish for breakfast on the beach with followers—Ms. Tunnéll attached pieces of fishnet and bark collected from trees in Tampa (symbolizing kindling for the cooking fire) to each stole.

    May not be to everyone’s taste, but certainly gospel inspired and filled with Christian imagery.

  8. The stoles in this article seemed to function to foster clericalism, i.e. mainly define who is a cleric and who is not, more so that any other sign, e.g. the cleric could wear a robe, a suit and tie, or shirt sleeves with it.

    Any time I’m preaching or leading the sacraments, I wear the stole, it’s a reminder that, even if we’re doing it in a less formal way, the worship service is a sacred occasion. Isn’t it rather odd for the stole to be the distinguishing character of a worship service, e.g. that one could not have a worship service without a cleric.

    I think the stoles were my favorite part of the services but they made me fall into the sin of covetousness repeatedly! Again this gives the stole an inappropriate centrality. No matter how beautiful or unusual stoles might be, I just cannot see them as my favorite part of the liturgy. This person seems to realize there is something disordered about his attraction to them.

    a new avenue of gifting for parishioners eager to offer something handmade and unique to pastors. Again the clericalism implicit in this idea: “holy things” for “holy people.”

    I hope this article mainly reflects the author’s obvious enthusiasm for the artwork itself, that this led her to exaggerate the importance of stoles, and that the clergy in their appreciation for the artwork and wanting to cooperate with the story didn’t really think too much about the implications of what they were saying.

    The artwork itself reminds me of the series of cloth banners that grace my favorite parish, one per liturgical season, original art never repeated. Next Advent will be different. Each banner is a huge long strip of cloth draped in different shapes which fill the stone wall behind the altar. Like these stoles they are elaborate intricate designs that take some time to understand. Extremely beautiful, often very deep colors. Designs not traditional probably too “new age” for MJO’s taste, but I suspect he would love the deep colors, (not wishy washy or boring) which remind one of traditional vestments. They certainly proclaim this church is vested for worship in this season far more than any chasuble or antependium!

    I would rather have artists focus on adorning the church, the icon of us all, rather than adorning the clergy.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #9:
      “I think the stoles were my favorite part of the services but they made me fall into the sin of covetousness repeatedly!” Again this gives the stole an inappropriate centrality.

      Stoles: the new tassel, the new phylactery? (Mt 23:5)

    2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #9:
      As human animals, we do use our clothing to communicate; it’s our plumage so to speak. The use of the stoles in this context is to communicate that the wearer is an ordained person (note that unordained pastors are not supposed to wear stoles). One way or another, we do have leaders at services. Even informal services with no clergy will have some kind of organizing principle. It’s not that one person is a leader, but the quality and style of leadership as well as how the leader is determined that can cause problems.

      As for gifting a cleric with a stole, I would put this in the same category as gifting a favorite teacher or a doctor who has been very helpful. The goal is to use the gift to convey appreciation of the person in their professional or vocational capacity. Typically, the gift is tied to the profession, for example, a book for a teacher.

      As to the appropiateness of a gift, that is a matter of judgment and taste. My understanding is that the stoles are significant but not overly expensive. Dedicating adornments for the sanctuary in the name of someone would also be proper, provided that the congregation is as appreciative as the honoree.

  9. Such silliness. Yes, a stole indicates one’s Office: The Deacon (in the catholic Traditions like Rome, Lutheran and Anglican, Orthodox) wears the stole over one shoulder, the Priest and Bishop over both shoulders.

    I have many very nice and appropriate stoles that can only be worn when the rare occasion that I am not presiding at the Eucharist takes place. Most days, a simple stole is worn under the chasuble,

    I remember attending my grandmother’s funeral Mass at the Polish Roman Catholic parish where she lived and the ethnic Polish priest vested in alb and stole for the Mass. I didn’t question this, as grandson in clericals who, unfortunately, did not commune because I am Lutheran.

    When I read the article about the Methodist clergy who have a less than traditional relationship with vestments, I cannot be proud, as many of my LCMS Lutheran brothers rarely or never wear traditional catholic vestments….unless one considers a Hawaiian shirt the new chasuble….SIGH!

  10. Within the past year, someone misfiled one of my deacon stoles, and my pastor helped me search through the sacristy drawers for it. It became evident that those drawers hadn’t been cleaned out for decades – there were, quite literally, dozens of stoles in there belonging to goodness knows whom, presumably left behind by the parade of pastors and associates who had been assigned there since the church was built in the 1960s. Based on some of the vestments we unearthed that clearly dated from the ’60’s and ’70’s, I can report with certainty that it wasn’t just UMC clergy who wore, shall we say, liturgically imaginative stole colors and patterns. ( Can someone remind me which seasons orange and brown are for?)

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #13:
      Can someone remind me which seasons orange and brown are for?

      Halloween and Thanksgiving, of course. But you can get more mileage out of them* by wearing them throughout the liturgical season of Autumn. Green for the beginning of Ordinary Time, but slowly changing to Orange in September, then Brown in November.

      * Because, of course, it is wasteful to spend money on a liturgical vestment that’s only going to be worn once or twice a year.

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