Revving it up

In the process of training for the priesthood, there a certain landmark moments:

  • Receiving your free Greek New Testament and Book of Common Prayer. (I likened it to the giving out of kittens in The Worst Witch. That may or may not be an appropriate analogy.) 
  • The first ordination (of other people) you attend having achieved ‘ordinand’ status.
  • Attending an ordination exactly a year before your own, watching people you’ve sat alongside in college wearing the full priestly regalia.
  • Receiving your interim report – the one that goes to your Bishop and potential curacies.
  • People beginning to confirm their curacies.

And then there’s the vestments fair…

There are no rides and no candy-floss, but there is an array of stands advertising and showing-off various clerical wares, from stoles and shirts to cassocks and surplices (and an awful lot in between). For many, this is a big moment – the first time they will don the clothes that in a few short months time will become their uniform. For others, in lower years, it’s an opportunity to witness familiar faces wearing unfamiliar outfits, and realise that one day that will be them too.

Ours took place on the last residential of the term, nearly a fortnight ago. Several companies crammed into HighLeigh’s old chapel and a host of apprehensive ordinands milled around cautiously examining their goods. I wasn’t actually going to go. Over lunch, I sat with a group of final year students who intended to band together in order to make the process less nerve-wracking. But I was intent on giving it a miss and spending some quality time in Hoddesdon instead (visiting Saver’s, it’s a residential tradition) – especially as I still don’t have a curacy to go to and therefore no idea of what my clerical outfitting requirements will be. [That’s a whole other, long, frustrating story which is not yet for this website.] Hilariously, I had a change of heart and ended up returning to my bedroom over an hour later clutching a cassock.

Yes, while everyone else was getting measured and placing orders, I found a cassock exactly in my size that was in the sale. The only snag was that to take advantage of it, I had to buy it there and then, finding room in my bag to get it back to London. [For the uninitiated, whatever your future church’s churchmanship, you will need a clerical shirt, cassock & surplice for ordination.]

Cassocked LizWhat you miss in this photo is the purple Converse peeking out from under the cassock’s folds. A good look I feel.

The moment when you see your friends wearing a dog-collar for the first time is very, very weird. There’s no getting over that. But the camaraderie is definitely a bonus – going it alone into the world of clerical clothing would be terrifying!

Revved up ordinands David in the jacket packed specific clothes for this occasion, so he could really look the part. That’s forward thinking!

On the train home on Sunday, I was talking about the fair with some first years who had popped into the fair just to see what things looked like. According to one of them, the moment when I emerged from the toilets clad in a cassock was a big moment. Not because it was hugely becoming, but because it was me, in a cassock – suddenly looking just like a vicar. We are all going to become clergy (God-willing) but it’s very easy to forget some of the practicalities that go with it…

The other discovery made at the vestments fair was just how awful some creations for female clergy are. I maintain that much female clerical wear is designed by men who are opposed to the ordination of women! It comes to something when the Dean of the college locates the worst of these and cheekily suggests that they might be perfect for you:

Fashionable Clerical threads I won’t name & shame, but the selection of shirts & models suggests that the catalogue hasn’t been updated since the early 1980’s.

Clerical shirts will be the breaking of me. I never wear blouses and unless Pepperberry brings out a clerical range, I’m determined to stick as much as possible to those bib things you can stick under regular dresses. If any female clergy out there have some tips on this issue, I’d gratefully receive them!

Finally, me in a dog-collar. [Or, as some wit on Twitter felt the need to point out, a ‘clerical collar’ if you’re being precise.] It’s not actually in a shirt as I wasn’t wearing one under the cassock. [For the record, there were clothes, just not anything into which a piece of white plastic could be inserted.]

Dog-collared Liz


  1. I sent you a tweet about someone that may be able to help about bib things/shirts.
    Hope you manage to find some help somewhere.

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