The Only One in Sight

I live in Ontario. Living in Ontario, as far as Plain people goes, is like living in Pennsylvania. It’s a big place, and there are many Anabaptist communities. Eventually even a newcomer will start to notice the Plain people.

But because I am not Anabaptist I go places that other Plain people do not. I go to Anglican church functions, for instance. I go into cities and malls. If I am not the only prayer cap in sight, it is unusual. (There are Beachy Amish in the area, so I sometimes see Beachy girls out shopping. They drive and the young ones wear hoodies and denim skirts with their little white caps.)

When I went to a conference at a very large city church, I was so noticably Plain that people stared on the streets. People assumed that maybe I didn’t know how to order coffee at Starbucks. (I’ll have a grande dark roast, please.) Okay, I didn’t use the chopsticks at the Thai restaurant, but I do know how. I just have a thing about chopsticks now. They don’t get washed, but thrown out. So I use a fork, because I know it will be reused.

I felt like something of a minor celebrity. People were excited at first – the Mennonites are here! Oh, sorry. But the shock of meeting a Plain Anglican was quite an experience for others.

Being a visible witness may be a new concept for some. We have worked so hard to fit in. We don’t even expect our clergy to stand out much. The collar, in most places, is the symbol of the ordained, but it is worn with secular clothes. The cassock and cap are long gone, even in most conservative dioceses. I don’t know if that is so bad. I’ve been caught outside the church in cassock and collar, and didn’t mind because my cassock was always presentable. But the last cassock in public I saw on someone else was old, faded and a bit stained. Is that a good witness? I suppose an old frayed clergy shirt and a torn suit jacket aren’t much of an advertisement either.

How concerned should we be for our public appearance? At what point do we pass from presentable to intolerable?

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4 thoughts on “The Only One in Sight

  1. I live in the UK and attend a free methodist church. Personally, I am very glad that our pastor does not wear a formal suit, dog-collar, etc. I believe that his genuinely humble, loving, Christian demeanour marks him out as a very Godly man. Also, his ‘ordinary’ dress makes him much more approachable to the unchurched. This is not meant to be a criticism of how you or others dress, just a personal reflection and belief that our behaviour should mark us out as being ‘different’ from others – not an outward sign, such as clothing. After all Jesus didn’t wear special clothing.

    • Part of the point I was trying to make is that being Plain in Ontario isn’t unusual. And if our behaviour doesn’t match our dress as Christians, then we are simply hypocrites. Certainly, how we are dressed is a mere fraction of who we are as Christians.

      Jesus did wear a distinctive garment, which probably marked Him as someone important and different. He had a seamless cloak. I would hazard a guess that this was made by a woman disciple. It is possible to make a circular garment like that, with the finished edges woven rather than sewn. It takes a great deal of weaving skill. If it was made of pure white wool, it would be even more distinctive, as wool is naturally yellow, and sheep 2000 years ago had a greater variety of fleece colours.

      In His time, Jewish women were distinctive by their dress, which was modest and simple. Christian women then adopted the same type of dress. It is why Paul admonishes the women to keep up that standard. I’ve found that my distinctive dress makes me more approachable for the unchurched, because they can idenitfy me as someone who is openly Christian. Because it is Plain dress rather than something more esoteric, I am identified as someone who lives a simple life.

  2. magdelaina,

    Here in South Western Sydney, I am not alone among coverers either, though my covering sisters here are Muslims, wearing everything from the vaguest notion of a headscarf to sisters who observe niqab, as well as hijab. I am, however, the only Christian who could be described as sitting somewhere upon the Plain continuum, though of the ‘small floral’ plain variety…

    My husband and i went into the sydney CBD today for his eldest brother’s 40th wedding anniversary held at the same place wher their reception was held upon this day back in 1970 (the Hero of Waterloo Pub). the building dated c1810. It is right in the Historic Rocks area of Sydney, a five minute walk from Circular Quay and the Sydney Operah House… I most definitely was the only one dressed as I am (though my husband preferred I wear only a navy blue crochet elasticated buncover – similar to those popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s) (the outfitconsisting of a white dress with glatia blue tiny flowers and a mid blue denham vest along with navy blue sandals matching my BC – my one and only pari of summer shoes), so I can empathize with being the only one – whether in this company, or on my home range where, though there are plenty of other coverers, i am the only of Christian faith.

    Some may think this type of gathering is most certainly no place for a Christian and most definitely no place for one who does not conform to the world re attire – My conscience and prayer did not arrive at the same conslusion, though… Interestingly, though there were louts across the street and louts on the train coming home, I was not inconvenienced by anybody

    Perhaps even in a place like sydney, even the unchurched (which is the vast majority) undestand at a subconscious level what ‘modest’ means…

    Just a few thoughts,

    Sarah.

    • Is immodesty so widespread that being just modest is q shock to some? There are a lot of Muslims in Canada, many hijabi. So again, you’d think that it isn’t soemthign unusual. And come to think of it,we all wore kerchiefs and snoods or bun covers in the ’70s. I had a wide variety of hats I wore regularly. So it’s not soemthign new. Maybe it’s a bit retro chic.

      As for louts – the worst experiences I had were in London (Ontario, not England) where I got some harrassment. But Paula, who went to school there, assures me that is just London, not a particular anti-Plain prejudice in the province. Sometimes college towns can be the centre of drunken ethnic bashing – so why aren’t schools teaching tolerance as part of a liberal education?

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