Anyone can be plain, I suppose, even unchurched heathens. “Plain” is default for most peasant cultures throughout history.
But Anglicans? Aren’t they the people who followed the Roman Catholics with wild expensive vestments, fancy churches, everything possible draped, encrusted or gilded?
Well, some of our vestments and accoutrements can be pretty ornate. Some priests love all that, give them gold lame and they are ecstatic. Others are what the professors use to call “low church” – or “black Protestants” – because they rejected all the trappings, and wore the cassock, surplice and stole instead of the fancy duds. But I say go for it! The church is a reflection of the New Jerusalem, so the full vestment, all the gear, fancy lights, lots of drapery, stained glass everything…be impressive – be extravagant! God is incredibly extravagant and generous, nature is full of amazing colours and patterns and textures. For myself, I prefer something a bit more understated, a simple alb, no lace, a stole on the plainer side without gold thread and fringes.
But outside the church building, Christians are called to a simplicity of life that echoes the life of our Saviour. We are called to a life of gratitude and simple satisfaction.
The Apostolic model of commonality of goods is one way to achieve that. Setting aside personal extravagance and extreme individuality makes more available for all. None is rich, none is poor. A deliberate sense of modesty in dress and expenditure is more achievable in modern life; being satisfied with plain, durable, inexpensive clothes that emphasize Christian dedication and humility.
Well, maybe there’s a key word: Humility. Maybe Anglicans aren’t very good at it. This is not the Uriah Heep lowliness which is really a lie, a secret contempt for others while keeping the countenance downcast. This humility is the sense of awe we feel when we gaze upon the cross, when we stand before God, when we follow Jesus Christ in saying, “Thy will be done.” It is a humility that connects with the great strength of our Lord, whose humility was not cringing or defiant or powerless, but a humility of discipline before His Father in heaven.
The Anglican church has often been the church of political power. It has been the church of the wealthy and established. It moved very easily in the world and has rarely faced persecution. It has handed out persecution all too often, been complicit in oppression.
A strong dose of Plain might help.