Why Do We Make Beautiful Vestments
Last night I was working late and thought I would have a bit of fun glancing through social media. We have been working hard for weeks on end and it was time for a break. I clicked on a few links and then came across some words that were hurtful – both to the work we do and the what has been created from a desire to give thanks to the Lord for the gifts we have been given.
I have never spoken to this person, and I am uncertain whether that person has ever been to our blog to find out what Ecclesiastical Sewing is all about. The comment referred to all of the work being done on the Reformation vestments being a “show.” There was also a comment referring to a simple cross as being enough to point one to Christ. These other “things” – our vestments – were not needed.
That word hurt at first, and then taking a step back and remembering the Commandments and their explanations, we are instructed to “defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.” So I pondered the word “show” for a moment and the laughed out loud! Perhaps without realizing it, this word “show” hits the mark. Let’s take a look at where the word “show” comes from and what is means. In Latin, the word “demonstrare” means to show or to teach. Demonsto was one of the very first Latin words my children learned. It means I show, teach. That is right. That is what the Reformation designs and vestment collection does. It shows or teaches our faith. A derivative of demonstrare is to demonstrate. Each symbol in the Reformation collection demonstrates our faith. These symbols are not unique to Lutherans. They are symbols that may be used by all Christian Faiths. When I first spoke with Edward Riojas about designing a Reformation Collection of designs, one of the most important things the collection had to do was to show or teach our faith, just as Luther says in his small catechism, “as the head of the household should teach his family.”
The first symbol used in the Reformation Collection is that of the Holy Trinity. This is a universal symbol used by many churches. This is also a symbol of the Apostle’s Creed. One only has to take a close read of the early Church Fathers to appreciate the gift that is given us in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.
How many of you know what this symbol represents? Any guesses? If you said the Lord’s Prayer, you would be correct. When Christ’s disciples implored him to “teach us to pray,” he taught them to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Christ did not leave us with an empty cross to stare at.
The symbol above is also a symbol for prayer. One thinks of the verses from a hymn that we sing, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands at the evening sacrifice.” This verse may also be found in the book of Psalms.
The rest of the Reformation designs demonstrate our faith just as clearly and simply. Christ gave us rich and beautiful gifts in baptism, Holy Communion, the Ten Commandments and the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven along with Prayer and the Creeds. People learn in different ways. Some learn by hearing, others by seeing, still others by touching or through their senses. Visual images such as the designs in the Reformation Collection, which are also designs used within all faiths, is the visual key to the message being taught by the pastor. Imagine showing a small child the above image, and then reciting the words of the Psalm. Add the use of incense so they can “smell.” Suddenly, they understand because they can see what they have been hearing. That is what it means to show or teach with vestments.
Ecclesiastical Sewing took root as a result of there being a lack of fabrics, patterns, designs, and instructions on how to make church vestments. What was once considered common knowledge – how to make stoles, hand embroider altar linens and vestments, hem altar linens, etc – has been lost. Many of you have first-hand knowledge of this. For those who scoff, give vestment making a try to see what a challenge it is to properly provide vestments, linens and altar hangings for the Lord’s House.
Our home church, like many others, is not wealthy. There is not a large budget for ordering the things that are needed in the Lord’s House. When we had altar hangings that needed to be updated, a few projects were attempted. Resources on how to do these things were lacking. Mistakes were made, and through trial and error, skills were gained. Others asked questions and wanted to know how things were done. Again – a need arose. And with a thankful heart, information and skills were shared – passing the information on to others so it would not be lost again to future generations. That is how and why Ecclesiastical Sewing exists today.
When creating vestments for the House of the Lord, one should always begin with the advice of a pastor. A good place to start is with meaningful symbols that can be used to teach the faith. Things like the Cross, Holy Communion, the Creeds, Prayer, Baptism, Confession, Key to the Kingdom, Holy Monograms, and so forth are appropriate symbols to start with. The symbols can be simple, and in many places that creates a comfort zone. The symbols can also be a bit more elaborate. That sometimes get beyond the comfort zone of some and into unfamiliar territory for others.
Yet, it might be wise to take a step back in time and look at history, beginning with the book of Exodus. In following God’s Command, the Israelites were instructed: “to have blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen” for use in His Tabernacle and for adorning the clothing of Aaron as his Priest. These were woven with threads of gold. As one reads through the accounts in Exodus, the instructions are clear – things of unimaginable beauty were created by fine craftsmen and women. Nothing was too good for use in the Tabernacle or as part of Aaron’s priestly vestments. Would one dare call that a “show” as in “cashing in on an event?” Indeed not! Following that was the making of Solomon’s Temple – again, things of beauty almost beyond description.
Throughout history, the church has undergone periods where there were items of plenty. Vestment inventories from the middle ages list dozens of copes, chasubles and other items that would rival the inventories of both tabernacle and temple. And today we have gone to the other extreme to the point where even if the desire to create items for use in the church is there, the means of execution is not readily available.
And this brings us back to where I began. Ecclesiastical Sewing is about providing the tools – designs, fabrics, patterns, instructions and encouragement for churches, seamstresses, pastors, priests and clergy to make and have beautiful items for use in worshiping the Lord. Creating things of beauty for the House of the Lord with the work of my hands has alway been a means to “show” or “teach.” The Lord has given my hands a skill – the gift of using needle and thread. I could use that skill in many ways – I could create a closet full of quilts, bridal gowns, or clothing, all of which are fine and good things to do. But I choose to use that skill in creating things of beauty for the Lord’s House and for his Pastors. It is about giving thanks for the greatest gift Christ gave with his shed blood on a cross, be it a simple cross or a work of art. Both point to the Lord and give Him the Glory.
Soli Deo Gloria