In Our Sunday Bests
I had cause sometime ago to sit in front of a Mosque somewhere in Yaba. I was waiting for an itinerant shoemaker to fix my shoe (yes, wardrobe malfunction 🙂 ). I saw his little tool box outside so I guessed he was praying. While waiting, I saw a cart pusher come out, and then I saw a refuse scavenger also came out. Shortly after, “my shoemaker” also came out after observing his prayers.
The encounter got me thinking. I envisioned the usual atmosphere in our churches, whether on a Sunday or weekday service and wondered if any of “these sort of people” would be welcomed, or feel welcome, in our service.
I began to wonder how Sunday worship, or any other service for that matter, came to be associated with “Sunday Best”. I wonder how Sundays became a competition and an excuse to flaunt our status in the house of worship.
“…in modest apparel”
The New Testament has some things to say about how we should dress when we come together for worship. It talked about women adorning themselves “in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls or costly array…”. It instructed that the “man indeed ought not to cover his head”, and that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”.
Now, this is not about the “head-covering” argument today. We have all found ways to set aside that instruction, and not just the women (even though I often wonder if the head covering argument is not driven mainly by a desire to show off our “broided hair”). Our male bishops and archbishops across various denominations and traditions have also found sufficient arguments to justify coming to church with various designs of head-coverings.
One thing that clear here is that even though the women in Corinth and Ephesus did have gold, pearls and costly array, in the opinion of the Apostle, it was not the stuff to flaunt in worship…a simple apparel was enough.
In the opinion of a writer,
Dressing up for church became a popular practice in the first half of the nineteenth century, first in England, then northern Europe and America, as a consequence of the industrial revolution and the emergence of the middle class. While care was historically given to cleanliness and solemnity on Sabbath days, dressing up for worship resulted, not from a theological teaching, but from the influence of Victorian culture on worshiping communities.
An Exclusive Club
What we should be concerned about is the possibility that the Church, in many places, are building worship centers that are fast becoming exclusive clubs of those who “have arrived”, those who are “arriving” and those who are pretending to belong to either category.
There is the story about an impoverished old man who applied for membership of a wealthy church. The Pastor tried to put him off with all kinds of evasive remarks. The old man became aware that he was not welcome there and finally told the pastor that he would pray about it. After several days, he returned.
“Well”, asked the Pastor, “Did the Lord give you a message?”
“Yes sir, He did” was the old man’s answer. “He told me it wasn’t any use” He said “I’ve been trying to get in that same church for ten years and they won’t let me in either”
Shutting people out
Of course, no church would be brazen enough to deny anybody membership like in the anecdote above, but are we not by our attitude and body language telling that scavenger that he is not welcome here? Are we not likely to display preferential “respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool”?
Do we, by our teaching imply, no matter how subtly, that those who are poor are poor because they do not have faith or because of some other fault of theirs? Do we, by the way we preach and practice giving, contrary to the instruction not to “let the left hand know what the right hand is doing”, intimidate the poor widow from dropping her mite?
Is our congregation so invested with appearances, that some members feel like not coming to Church because they do not have what is fashionable enough to wear?
The “poor you will always have with you”, says the Lord. Are our churches accessible to them? Or that ceased with Mother Theresa? Let us not wait until the last day to begin to argue with the Lord saying: “when did we see you in poor dressings, and shut you out of our crystal cathedral…?” Time enough to make amends!