Several parishes ago, I had a faithful parishioner-a woman who never missed a week of worship-come up to me after a service and begin a conversation about my shoes. Yes, my shoes...not my sermon, nor the weather, nor the choices of hymns...she approached me about my shoes.
She was the manager of a shoe store just down the hill from the church, and she wanted to thank the rector and myself (I was an assistant at the time) on the care he and I put into our shoes. She remarked that as a person who worked with shoes and people every day, she was always aware of what kind of shoe it was that people wore and in what condition they were kept. She was grateful that the rector and I took the time to make sure our shoes were polished, clean and in good condition for Sunday worship. It meant a lot to her that her pastors were mindful in that way. I thanked her for the compliment, and then gave silent thanks to my father who when I was young worried me continually over wearing appropriate footwear to church (even when I insisted on sneakers) and who got me into the habit of wearing "real" shoes to church.
As she walked away, I had an opportunity to reflect on just how important that simple choice of footwear for Sunday morning on my part was for the people I served. You see, when people come up to the altar to receive communion, very often they will cast their eyes down in deference to the sacrament. Of course, as I pass them distributing the Body, they are going to see my shoes. Will they see that I am a good steward of my possessions? Will they see that I cared enough to put a polish on shoes that are appropriate for the special occasion we are observing of the worship of our God? Or, will they see that I was not mindful in caring for things entrusted to my oversight, that I was not aware that I stepped in mud on the way into church and failed to clean my shoes off before entering the sanctuary?
All that from a simple choice of what shoes I wear to church. For that woman, and others, that simple choice on my part spoke volumes to the tone set for answering our mutual call in service to God. In a time when pretty much anything goes in dress for church, choosing to be mindful of how others see and perceive us in dress and comportment can truly be a pastoral consideration of the highest form.
That is why I look with some (but not a lot) of sympathy at Paul's attempt to talk about what is appropriate in worship. For the most part, he focuses on hair, and on head coverings. What a man or woman does with their hair matters to him, in that the choices people in Corinth are making in that regard has an impact on the unity of the people as they gather to praise God. Set aside for a moment the work Paul does on the way genders are to relate to each other (that is a longer blog post to be sure), focus on his struggle to make people aware of how much their choices-even of adornment and dress-affect the worship of others. Our worship is through all our senses...we hear the prayers, smell the atmosphere, feel the textures of the environment, taste the bread and wine and see the decorations, people and furnishings of the space we worship in, and the people we worship with...
And that means, for some, what a priest chooses to wear on his feet matters.
Before we condemn Paul as being trivial and pedantic about how a woman should cover her head, or whether a man should have short or long hair in church, let's take a moment to acknowledge how important it is that we should allow our outward appearance to reflect an inner mindfulness. Choosing a particular form of dress for worship is more than just showing up in whatever...and it is more than making an overt show of piety...it is at its best a caring and mindful expression of offering our best selves up to God and to each other.
All that on a Sunday morning from a pair of black oxford lace-ups, size 11-D.