Purple shirts, crosses, and other stuff

Father David Epps's picture

“What’s with the difference in all the clergy, the different colored shirts they wear, the crosses, and the ‘plus’ signs?”

Such have been a few of the questions I have received since my consecration as a bishop in November.

I realize that some of what we do, how we act, and what we wear in my denomination is strange to those of evangelical Protestantism — although we most certainly are evangelical, too. So, in the unlikely event you have any interest whatsoever in such things, allow me to share a few brief words.

There are three types of clergy in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, as in most communions that claim the designation, “only, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” with all three being ordained ministers: deacons, priests, and bishops.

The laity are also ministers by virtue of their baptism. Actually, the men and women of the Church are THE ministers of the congregation — the ordained clergy are like the “coaches” with the laity being the “players” on the field and in the game.

Deacons in our denomination are not to be confused with evangelical Protestant deacons. who, for the most part, are laymen (or, perhaps, women “deaconesses”). They are not ordained clergy, and they serve on a “board” or some other governing council and may have other assignments. They are not normally authorized to do priestly or sacramental duties, although good deacons in an evangelical church are a very valuable asset to the pastor and the church.

Our deacons are fully ordained clergy and, under certain circumstances, may marry, bury, be a pastor, serve Eucharist, or Holy Communion, with pre-consecrated elements, counsel, pray, baptize, and assist the priest or bishop, among other duties.

Deacons in our communion wear a gray clergy shirt — the traditional “collar.” On Sundays, they wear a stole, or a colored cloth, over a white robe that is diagonal from the left shoulder to the right side of the waist.

Deacons represent the servant heart of Christ. They wear a silver, pewter, or wooden cross on a black cord. Some deacons are “permanent deacons” and will serve God as lifetime servants, usually in one church, unless they move to another location, assisting the priest and bishop. They are ordained by the denomination, not the local church.

Other deacons feel called to the pastorate and are “transitional deacons” who, one day, may be ordained to the priesthood and will plant a church.

Priests may perform all of the sacraments (and there are seven in our church) except for confirmation and ordination. They wear a black clergy shirt, although they may also choose to wear gray at times.

On Sundays, their stole hangs straight down from the shoulders on both sides in the front. They wear a silver cross and chain.

Priests represent the father heart of God. A priest may use a cross, or a plus sign, after his name in correspondence: for example, “Father John Brown +.” The cross indicates that he is a priest. Priests never stop being “deacons” and should be good examples of humility to the deacons, as far as their “servant hearts” are concerned.

Bishops may perform all of the sacraments. They wear a purple clergy shirt but — guess what — they may also choose to wear black or gray! Confused yet?

They wear a gold cross and chain and wear a ring on their right hand indicative of their office. A bishop is the chief pastor in a diocese and is a pastor to ALL the members of the churches but especially to the deacons and priests.

In our communion, bishops who lead a diocese are to be pastors of their own churches — demanding, to be sure, but good for keeping their feet on the ground and their heads out of the ozone — hopefully.

The bishop represents the government of God, but he should also be a prime example of a servant and be a good spiritual father. A bishop always remains both a deacon and a priest.

The bishops may use a plus sign, or a cross, in FRONT of their names as in: “+ John Brown.” The cross takes the place of the word “bishop.” So, “+ John” means “Bishop John.” Sometimes, archbishops are shown with two cross in front of their name, as in “++ John Brown.”

Deceased believers also have a cross in front of their names in the programs of special services such as All Saints Day, i.e., “+ Dorothy Brown.”

So both bishops and deceased people have crosses in front of their names, which says something — I don’t know exactly what — but something.

Perhaps, that the bishop is dead and that the archbishop is doubly dead! I hope that’s not the case.

But the truth is that it’s ALL about the High Priest and, if it’s not, we are wasting our time.

Jesus is the High Priest in the midst of his people and He is the consummate servant, father, and king.

Don’t get all hung up about this stuff. It’s all signs and symbols — although it may also be strikingly beautiful to behold — that point to a greater reality.

On Sundays, I wear a purple “beanie-thingy” called a “zucchetto,” also spelled, “zucchetta,” not to confused with a “zucchini.” Actually, it’s sort of a “red-purple.”

A young boy asked me the other week, “Why do you have to wear that pink hat in church?”

“For humility,” I said. “For humility.”

At least, that’s my take on it as a brand new bishop. If I have shared any incorrect information, I am certain that someone will correct me — but it’s okay. I wear a pink hat and am learning humility.

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Submitted by Bonkers on Thu, 01/03/2008 - 7:37pm.

First, I must mention that Lord and Lady Creecy at Olivet are still advertising special church services for mid December 2007.
His robes and stuff and thingies seem somewhat different than Father Epps. I hope none of this stuff has anything to do with "graven images."
As with the Pope and his many colors and sashes, all these clothes must be difficult to keep clean and stored! Do the local Catholic Priests and regular Episcopal preachers also use much of this stuff, or is there a whole new book to explain theirs?
It all seems to me to appeal to the same kind of person as does the Masons and Eagle Scouts and Police and Fire dress uniforms!
Not that there is anything wrong with that!
I started to say KKK, but they were more or less hiding.
Maybe someone can fill me in as to where in the Bible it describes all these garments?
At least the Mormons wrote a new Bible to explain some of their unusual happenings (but not all).

ctkcec's picture
Submitted by ctkcec on Thu, 01/03/2008 - 9:52pm.

It saves a lot of money on suits and ties. Smiling
+ David Epps

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Thu, 01/03/2008 - 10:30pm.

Bishop Epps,

Thanks for always being respectful and graceful in your writings...even when some use words as thingies. There is so much beauty in the vestments worn by the clergy, be it a rabbi, priest, or the pope. The significance of the alb, stole, chausble and other liturgical vestments can really enlighten us all, especially if we look into the different Rites such as Byzantine, Orthodox, Eastern, etc. Thanks for your explanation.

Submitted by sageadvice on Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:35am.

Use words as "thingies," I think the reverend did that!
But it ws graceful.
What is the significance of the alb?

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 7:25am.

Happy New Year. I just got back into town last night, so pardon my tardy response, The alb, sometimes called the tunic, is a very plain white vestment tied with a cinture, worn underneath the more elaborate vestments. It is almost floor-length, and it looks something like what Jesus would have worn; tight. long sleeves. Every Rite has different ways of doing things, but there is so much beauty. I am by no means an expert, but have traveled enough and visited different denominations to have seen the seriousness and reverence of the attire used by clergy in many Rites. I once attended a Mass in Corinth, Greece which lasted over 3 hours, and I truly feel that the priest must have had 30 pounds of vestments on. I did not understand one word, but did understand the reverence and the faith of the people. Have a good day! I'm off to tackle the Atlanta traffic!

Submitted by sageadvice on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 8:05am.

I know WHAT it is, you said it had significance, I asked what the significance was! How on earth would we know what Jesus might have worn?

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Wed, 01/09/2008 - 7:47am.

You certainly have a way with words. I will reply to your question, but if you need more information, you can go to the library, internet, or visit clergy from different religious rites. As I said previously, I am not an expert, but the significance of the alb as I have read and has also been explained to me by different clergy members is purity or chastity. These white tunics were used by the newly baptized christians in the early church as a symbol of their conversion and their desire to sin no more. For priests, it can be a symbol of chastity. So, before placing the more elaborate vestments, clergy clads themselves with the simple and humble symbol of conversion and purity. As for what Jesus wore, reference is made numerous times in Scripture...but I'll let YOU do that research. Scripture even tells us that he wore sandals, and the Bible even speaks about John the Baptist's wardrobe, using a tunic made out of camel hair. Scripture speaks about attire quite frequently, interestanly. Once again, I'm off to tackle the Atlanta traffic, and wish you a pleasant day.

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