You know that you’re a true “nerd of all things Anglican” if you, like me, eagerly look forward to seeing the stoles and chasubles of visiting Priests and Bishops. What does the vestment’s design say about the wearer? Does it match the liturgical season? Does it have symbols that represent aspects of the wearer’s faith experience? “Oh, that’s an interesting stole,” one might hear from the pews as guest clergy process down the aisle.
What’s that you say? Stole? The truth is, we see church vestments every week, but we may not know their true names or origin. During our 150th year, let’s take a closer look at my favourite vestment–the stole.
The stole is the decorative scarf that an officiant wears during a church service. Here at All Saints’, clergy typically wear stoles with colours representing the liturgical seasons. The lower portion contains a symbol of faith. Common history suggests that ancient government officials wore stoles as a badge of office. Slaves and servants also wore cloths around their necks for cleaning and polishing. In the church, therefore, that the stole takes on these two roles. In the Anglican Church, you can identify a Deacon as they wear their stole diagonally from shoulder to waist. Ordained clergy always wear their stoles around the shoulder more like a scarf. At one time, the stole may have been used by celebrant to clean the chalice during the service. Too expensive for this purpose today, the stole is a symbol of that cleaning cloth and reminds us that the celebrant (whether Deacon, Priest or Bishop) remains a servant of Christ.
The next time you are in church, take a closer look at the vestments you see. You’ll be the envy of your pew when you are able to quickly identify a visiting Deacon from a Priest or gently correct someone who may confuse a stole for a common tippet.
~Bertie Weatherbottom, Notes & Queries Reporter for the 150th.