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Why do Vicars dress like that?

To help children understand why some Ministers wear robes in church, and to explore the symbolism contained in the clothes.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)

Aims

To help children understand why some ministers wear robes in church, and to explore the symbolism contained in the clothes.

Preparation and materials

You need a child-proof minister, ideally with interesting stoles/scarves - the more personal and original the better! A typical list for an Anglican includes the following, on which the assembly is based (adjust and adapt for your favourite minister):

  • cassock (long black coat)
  • surplice or cotta (surplice has a round neck, cotta a square neck, the white blouse-type garments that go over the cassock)
  • academic hood
  • preaching scarf (long black scarf that goes round the neck and down the front)
  • stoles (green, red, white and purple, each worn at different times of the year). The symbols on them can be strikingly beautiful.

Ask them to wear a 'dog collar' to the assembly.

Assembly

  1. Ask how many of the children have ever been to church. Can they remember what the vicar/minister (adjust language and explain terms as appropriate) was wearing at that service? If they can see the various clothes, they may well remember! If not, ask the minister to put on their cassock.

  2. Explain that cassocks are based on garments worn by people who have given their lives to God. Ask if anyone knows the name for men and women who go to live in a special place, and spend their lives thinking about God, and praying? Monks and nuns (sometimes called brothers and sisters). And what do you call the long clothes that they wear? Habits.

  3. Explain that monks and nuns also did other things, like growing vegetables and keeping animals, so their habits got dirty. So when they went to say their prayers, they put a clean shirt on over their cassocks. The minister puts on their surplice/cotta to make them look smarter.

  4. Explain that habits have hoods to keep the rain off - and so does our minister's. He/she puts on the hood, pulling it right over the head (the minister might vanish into the depths, I do!). Explain that the colour of the hood tells people who know about such things where our minister went to college.

  5. There is one last thing ministers wear over the top. When a service is sad or solemn, they wear a black scarf (minister dons the black scarf). But more often, churches are full of colour. Usually the church has some pieces of coloured fabric around and along the altar table, Bible bookmark, etc., and these vary according to the time of the year. The minister wears a stole in the same colour. Ask the minister to put on the stole that is in today's colour, and explain how the four different colours are used.

    White/Gold is the colour for celebration: for Christmas and Easter, or Saints' days.
    Purple is the colour for fasts, such as Advent and Lent. Check the children know when those seasons occur (leading up to Christmas and Easter). These are times when we are being particularly serious because we are thinking about the meaning of these major festivals.
    Red doesn't come out often. It is for Pentecost (six weeks after Easter, when the Holy Spirit came) and really special Saints' days.
    Green is the most common colour, used for all other times of the year - when it's nothing else!

  6. As you look at the stoles, talk about the symbols that may be on them, asking the minister why s/he chose those symbols, and what they tell us about the Christian faith. Point out that older churches have lovely coloured windows, called stained glass windows. They often tell a story for people to look at. If you go to a modern church, or one with no stained glass windows, then one of the functions of a stole is to give a picture about the faith. It's OK to look closely at them!

  7. When the minister is back into street clothes, ask the children if they know what the collar is called. They might find it hugely amusing and somewhat puzzling. Why do ministers wear these? It's a badge, like a uniform, to tell people that this person is working for a church. Your minister may have a story of a stranger approaching them because they were in a collar.

Time for reflection

Let's thank God for all the people who work in our community:
doctors, nurses, firefighters, ambulance drivers, paramedics (and anyone else pertinent to this group)
and for people who help us to learn about God.

Song/music

'There are hundreds of sparrows' (Come and Praise, 15)

Publication date: 2000   (Vol.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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