Yesterday I wore blue jeans to church. I could feel 10 generations of my ancestors rolling over in their graves. But it was a Unitarian church and the (mostly White) congregation comes to church wearing everyday clothes, not "church clothes." I've seen people come to church in jeans, track suits, and (gasp) even shorts. And it always seems a little bit wrong. Wrong to come into God's house without fixing yourself up a little or at least putting a ribbon in your hair. That's the way I was raised. Actually to the extreme.
In the Baptist church I attended as a child, we dressed to go to church. Girls in pretty dresses, hair neat and pressed, boys in suits. Yes, suits! Women weren't allowed to wear pants, not even fancy, dress pants. And it wasn't unusual to see fine hats adorning the heads of all of the women above a certain age. I thought that's how everybody dressed for church. For a long time I thought that.
A White Quaker friend of mine recently took her children to a service at a Black, mega church here in Philadelphia. She had to send her kids back upstairs to change outfits because when they heard they were going to church, they just put on jeans and t-shirts, like they always do to attend Quaker meeting and the "hippie dippie" Catholic church they also attend sometimes (Hippie dippie is her adjective not mine.). "Why do we have to change?" they asked. And my friend answered, "Because Black people dress nicer for church than White people."
She said she felt horrible for explaining the situation that way, and yet, she felt confident that what she was saying was more fact than stereotype.
Her story stayed in my mind on Sunday, when I wore jeans to church. It felt so wrong, and yet it was a relief not to have to get dressed up to go to church. Needless to say, I still wore a fancy shirt, high-heel shoes and brand-new earrings to offset the jeans, but I felt more like myself.
And so I began to wonder is it true that Black people feel the need to dress for church and White people don't? Why is that? Is it really about race or is it more about particular congregations, denominations, and regions of the country?
Do southern White Baptists dress for church, but White Unitarians don't? My mother had a sister who converted to Catholicism and faster than you can say, Jesus wept, she started wearing her favorite clam diggers and t-shirts to church. And we should broaden the discussion to include Asians and Latinos and every other ethnic category because certainly every cultural group has their own take on the issue. So the phone lines are open people.
How does race impact what you put on on Sunday mornings? But more importantly, does God even care? Let's try to figure this out. Please share your Sunday morning experiences.