Archive for Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sunday best: Relaxing the dress code for worship

Bob Flannery, left, Joe Flannery and Dorothy Flannery in front of 2325 Mass., circa 1955.

Bob Flannery, left, Joe Flannery and Dorothy Flannery in front of 2325 Mass., circa 1955.

April 3, 2010


A group stands in front of St. Luke’s AME, 647 Maple St., on Easter in 1963.

A group stands in front of St. Luke’s AME, 647 Maple St., on Easter in 1963.

Blue-jean clad churchgoers at the EastLake Community Church, 2040 W. 31st St., enjoy coffee and pastries after the service on March 21.

Blue-jean clad churchgoers at the EastLake Community Church, 2040 W. 31st St., enjoy coffee and pastries after the service on March 21.

Dorothy Harvey remembers when it wasn’t Sunday without a hat, long white gloves and the most beautiful dress in the closet. Every Sunday meant dressing to the nines, even if it meant sitting in a packed, sweltering church long before the days of air conditioning.

“You always dressed to look your best. That was the whole point,” says Harvey, 84, who plans on wearing a nice dress to Easter service Sunday at St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church, 900 N.Y. “It was just something that was just drilled into us.”

To this day Harvey says she won’t ever wear pants in St. Luke’s sanctuary. She might wear slacks in the church’s lower-level fellowship hall, but that’s as dressed-down as she says she’d ever feel at the church she’s attended for 60 years.

Meanwhile, across town at EastLake Community Church’s service at South Junior High School, pastor Matt Cox says it would be unusual if anyone came dressed up to his Easter service, despite the fact that Sunday’s holiday is one of the dressiest on the Christian calendar. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that the church is billing Sunday’s service as “A different kind of Easter: casual atmosphere, fun for kids, short service, no weird stuff.”

“As far as EastLake is concerned, we’re all about trying to remove as many roadblocks as possible for people just to show up,” says Cox, who preaches to about 200 jeans-wearing worshippers each week. “And clothing is just one of the many, many things that I believe that the church, over the years, has just put in the way of just getting people to hear about God.”

So, when did wearing your Sunday best turn into dressing like all the rest? And do the clothes really make the man, woman or worshipper? Several people we talked to pinpointed the post-Vietnam world as the beginning of the end for the hats-and-gloves era of churchgoing, including Joe Flannery, who provides a unique perspective.

Flannery grew up in the Catholic Church, attending St. John the Evangelist as a child, and saw the slide from über-dressy to everyday casual both from his pew at the St. Lawrence Campus Catholic Center, 1631 Crescent Road, and as the president of Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Mass.

“My mother always dressed the three of us — I had two brothers and myself, every Easter. It was a fun day, we dressed up and went to church. It was back in the mid-’50s, and we all had coats and ties,” says Flannery, 59. “It was just different times. People generally dressed up for Sunday church, no matter what day it was, but Easter was held in higher esteem.”

Flannery says that he began to notice in the 1980s that men’s sportswear — sweaters, shirts, khakis, separates — began to become more of a force in the fashion world and soon took over worship wear, as well. Denim jeans were quick to follow.

“I think society has just become more casual. And as a result, not only in churches, but you notice it in restaurants — just about everywhere you go, people wear anything today,” Flannery says. “And there’s no standard dress, per se.”

Pastors acknowledge that the spectrum of clothing that shows up in their congregations can sometimes be a source of stress for members of the congregation who grew up in the hats-and-gloves era.

“We don’t have a code that we as a congregation set forward or anything, and certainly sometimes it creates a little ... irritation on the part of some, when ... some members as individuals don’t approve or think something is a bit too casual,” says the Rev. Gary Teske, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. “Personally, I’m just delighted to see people at worship, and the vast majority of our congregation is the same way.”

And that’s the key, says the Rev. Terry Newell, pastor of Perry’s Crossroads Cowboy Church: Having the bodies of believers in the pews is more important to many in the church than keeping score on each individual’s definition of “Sunday best.”

“I believe somebody asked me that question once before: ‘What about God wanting our best on Sundays?’” Newell says. “And I said, ‘Well, I think God wants our best — what’s inside us — all week long, not just on Sunday mornings.”


Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 11 months ago

Gee, if you're Reform Jewish, jeans seem to be just fine. Some men, but very few, wear ties. But, that's not on Sunday, it's on Friday night.

RogueThrill 7 years, 11 months ago

if Jesus is everywhere he has already seen you naked. He's probably relieved to see you in any clothes at all.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 11 months ago

Dorothy Harvey has always been, first and foremost, a real lady. She is a stalwart member of the Lawrence and Douglas County community, and her comments reflect that.

anneht 7 years, 11 months ago

Eastlake is packing in the people who have not been attending anywhere, some of them precisely because they didn't feel they could dress acceptably..... God must be pleased! After all, He says "As a man thinketh in his HEART, so is he..."

asbury 7 years, 11 months ago

I grew up in Joe Flannerey's era, and Easter was a big dress up occasion with new everything, from shoes to hats and gloves....but I wear jeans now if I feel like it, and I go to a "dressy" least it was in the past.....I believe God is just happy to see us worshipping, regardless of what we may be wearing.

Tex 7 years, 11 months ago

I wear jeans and t-shirts pretty much 6 days a week, but I always wear at least a pressed shirt, slacks and a tie to church. I am a Catholic who came back to the Church after a long absence, and the Mass, to me, is at least as significant an occasion as a wedding or a funeral. I would not wear jeans and a knit shirt to a funeral. I don't think "fancy clothes" are necessary, but going to church is, to my mind, supposed to be different than a visit to the Free State. Just my opinion, and I certainly don't think appearance or clothing should be grounds for judging someone or treating them differently. For me, 'dressing up' is so rare that it is a way to show respect for the solemnity and mystery of the Mass. Of course, casual dress gives kids a chance to ask mom or dad if it's all right for them to wear their "holey" jeans to services. A blessed Easter to all.

fan4kufootball 7 years, 11 months ago

I am not at against going to Church in casual clothes but I think it's quite funny that we dress to the nines to go anywhere else but find it so hard to dress nice to go to Church...... Personally I try to dress nice to attend Church as a matter of respect for our Savior who gave his his life for us.

LadyJ 7 years, 11 months ago

I remember as a child in the Catholic church, girls and women were required to wear something on their head. Going in bareheaded just wasn't allowed. There were many times you would see females with a Kleenex tissue or hanky bobbypinned to the top of their head.

Christine Anderson 7 years, 11 months ago

Ah, the Lutheran church I grew up in didn't require partial head "coverings", but dressing up was expected. That is, except when it was -20 degrees outside; then it was okay to wear pants underneath your dress. (ha,ha) My mom would buy my sister and I new dresses and hats with ribbons on them every Easter. And the white lace tights, and black patent leather shoes. She didn't make us do that when we got older, but I think she enjoyed it when we were little. Come to think of it, it made me feel like a princess then.

denak 7 years, 11 months ago

Just as a matter of opinion, I think people should try to dress for Church just a little better than if they were running to the store. I don't think one should have to dress to the nines but a little effort is appreciated even if it is just nice slacks and a shirt. I think taking the time to make an effort helps put the person in the right frame of mind and shows respect for themselves and their Church community.

However, when all is said and done, I'm just happy they are there and as the Bible says: Only God knows what is in a person's soul.


P.S. Veiling was very common when I was a small child. I remember wearing a veil when I took my First Communion and I'm pretty sure when I had my Confirmation. I think the only time you see a female in Church wearing a veil is when they are going through thier Rites or if she is a much older lady who is widowed.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 11 months ago

I don't support a formal "dress code" (well....within modesty and covering limits of course) and I kind of doubt God would want a 'dress code' in His church. It should be OUR desire to bring our very best before Him, and if jeans are the very best you have, go.

canyon_wren 7 years, 11 months ago

I live in a tourist town and both regular members of the congregation and tourists come in about anything, which is fine. It has been many years since I made an effort to have a special new dress for Easter, and though I loved it when we could wear pretty hats, it is certainly a lot handier not to have one's view blocked by those worn by people in front of you!

I tend to agree, though, with both Tex and denak that it is nice to dress up for church. I made a trip to Salt Lake a while back to go to see Ballet West and was surprised to see that many people dressed very casually (jeans, etc.) for something that used to be special enough for dressy clothes.

I don't think people should be scornful of those who DO wish to dress up any more than the reverse, and that often happens. As denak says, what matters is that people want to come to church and are comfortable there.

purplesage 7 years, 11 months ago

Church should NEVER be a fashion show and no one should be excluded because they have the duds. That said, the predecessor of church was the Jewish Temple worsnhip and at least the leadership (priests) wore finery. This is a really sticky wicket. On the one had, I don't think the clothing makes the worshiper and probably because of my age / background, I think a coat and tie on the men and heels and hose on the women looks appropriate But then, when I lived in a tourist area, I remember a family who would show up a time or two a year in shorts and flip flops, right in off the lake. And I was glad they came.

findaway 7 years, 11 months ago

i know this really has nothing to do with the article other than the photo, but I have to say, Mrs. Flannery is one of the nicest women I have ever met!! :)

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