At the first church I served, I wore one of several multi-colored, non-liturgical specific stoles that I had received as seminary graduation gifts. I really didn’t give it much thought. At the second church I served, we didn’t wear stoles in worship, so the few I had hung in the closet, brought out every so often for special occasions.
By now, I’ve accumulated about 20 stoles, some precious gifts, some purchases appropriate to the liturgical season. Our Third Church sanctuary does not have air-conditioning, so I give them a break for the summer.
During the year, I confess an inconsistency of thought about stoles. I do not dislike them, but they often feel uncomfortable hanging on my neck. Church members generally do like them – the color, the symbolism, the beauty. Once on a Sunday where I didn’t wear one, someone asked me if it was a Presbyterian or Calvinist thing. Not anymore I said, not really having thought too much about it, but interested in the question. In our post Vatican II setting, and in a constantly recalibrating liturgical world, stoles, it seems, can reflect much more the relational or vocational journey of the wearer. All of which is good, and not really the point of this (though in writing I am feeling the need to think a little more deeply about what we wear in worship, and why).
The point of all of this is in telling you about two red stoles. Both were gifts, and both carry deep meaning for the ministries and relationships they represent.
The stole on the left was owned by the Reverend James Rice. Jim Rice died before I came to Rochester. He was many things, but his legacy is strong as a voice for social justice in our city and region. Whenever there was a conversation about the Presbyterian church’s role in justice, righteousness, equality, Jim was there. As I said, Jim died before I came to Rochester. His widow, Cile Rice, remains a member of our congregation. Several years ago she gave me Jim’s red stole. I wear it profoundly and gratefully, hoping it captures some of Jim’s ministerial vision and his passionate commitment to the gospel.
The stole on the right was owned by the Reverend E. David DuBois. David was a distinguished United Methodist pastor and leader, engaging most of his ministry throughout the great state of West Virginia. He was a community leader on many issues, including homelessness in Charleston. In retirement, David and his wife Dot moved to Rochester to be near their son, my valued colleague Peter DuBois, and his family. He became a friend and colleague as well. David died in 2014, and Peter and his mother gave me David’s red stole. I wear it proudly and gratefully, hoping it captures some of David’s ministerial vision and his passionate commitment to the gospel.
We wear red stoles once a year, fittingly, on Pentecost. Because we have two Sunday morning services, I don’t have to choose which stole to wear. These two red stoles are beautiful in and of themselves. Their beauty is enhanced as I remember the mantle of servant leadership of those who wore them before I did, the Holy Spirit whose color they represent, and its ongoing work in my life and the life of the church.