In 1975 a friend at college asked me if I would accompany her sister to the Loreto College Formal. I had to hire a suit, and spent the evening acutely conscious that the pants were too tight, and likely to split at any moment! It is the first and last time I have ever worn a suit.
It's been accidental, really. I left Uni and went straight to a small desert settlement 300 miles from the nearest town. No real need for a suit. I met my wife there, but when you elope 300 hundred miles into Alice Springs to get married, a suit is not high on your priorities. Six years later we arrived back in Adelaide for theological college, with a new baby, a bookcase, and a swag; we needed a table and chairs, not a suit.
Then there were seven years of college; the taxation department wrote to me and told me to stop wasting their time with tax returns until I had actually earned something. No suit.
In my first parish I had a pony tail and a motor bike and the idea of a suit-- well, it just didn't fit. So if I needed to "go formal," I would wear my "blacks" and a collar. I run hot, so mostly I don't need a coat or jumper anyway. No one ever complained, so it never really mattered.
Until this morning.
I was outside with a coffee, considering my next planting in the vegetable garden--broccoli, I decided-- before leaving for church. I found myself having a conversation with a parish interview committee about whether I would be their next minister. Don't ask why. I have no idea. It just happened.
One of the committee members asked why I was not wearing a tie; or a suit.
I said, "Well, I don't have a suit. Actually I only ever wore one once; that was when I took Pauline Howard to the Loreto Formal."
Then, "So what do you wear to church, and for a funeral, or a wedding. And what if you were invited to Government House?"
"I wear a cross. And for weddings and funerals I wear black trousers and a clerical collar," I said. "And a stole."
I was about to say Government House invites were not a part of my life, when I remembered my daughter's stellar Year 12 results. "I was invited to Government House, once. I just wore my normal clothes."
I don't think this helped.
"Isn't it a witness to dress properly," asked someone.
I don't know where my reply came from, because it was a new thought.
"Suits are a symbol of the corporate world," I said.
"They are a symbol of power and domination. They're about having money, and being successful. And about being able to force other people to wear suits. That's not what I'm called to be. I'm to bring the Word to anyone. Suits exclude people. I can't wear a suit."
"Are you telling me Christians shouldn't wear suits?" asked my original interrogator. He was wearing a suit that looked like it cost rather more than a month's stipend.
"No. Only that I shouldn't. I reckon Andrew Dutney probably needs to wear a suit in his job. He looks good in a suit, too. But that's not me. I crawl under tables, and wash dishes, and shift furniture and stuff. And while I'm doing it I talk theology. Suits don't work for me."
And then I had to drive to church, so the meeting ended.
In the van I realised, that without ever really thinking about it, I had just decided that if a church seriously wanted me to wear a suit, I would have a very hard time discerning a Call from them.
Something about the practice of ministry has shaped me into a non-suit-wearing Christian. It is part of my faith identity. I hadn't realised that!
Sometimes this is how we do theology. We simply live the faith as best we are able and then, unexpectedly, an answer that we never knew we had--and the reasons for it-- just arrives!
Andrew Prior (April 2013)
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