Dressing for church

Here’s a Sunday afternoon sort of topic: do you dress up for church?

When I was a kid, and complained about getting dressed up to go to church, my parents told me that putting on our best clothes was a way of showing honor to God. I think this is where the phrase “Sunday best” comes from. Now that I have children of my own, I frequently have to urge the younger one to revisit his bedroom and upgrade his sartorial selection before we set out for church. My concern, I must admit, has less to do with giving honor to God–whom I am not sure cares–than about dressing to the standards of the community.

This has become more of an issue in the last few months as we’ve changed churches, and belong to a community in which the standard of dress (and the standard of living) are higher than at our previous church. Now, I find that I, too, wake up on some Sundays feeling disinclined to dress as well as seems appropriate.

Maybe this is just a preference for blue jeans, sneakers and a flannel shirt. Maybe it is something that maturity is supposed to get you past. But I am wondering if anybody else thinks there is more to it than that. When I get dressed up for church on a typical Sunday, I sometimes feel I am covering my true self, or my true condition in garments that make me seem other than I am–better than I am; more pulled together than I am. I feel as though I am disguising the very weaknesses and brokeness that I need to bring before God. Sure God can see it anyway, but it introduces artificiality when I should be at my most authentic. “Ah, yes,” I can hear God saying, “another penitent by way of Men Warehouse.”

As I say, I could just be wrapping a preference to as though I am at my ease in theo-babble. But thinking back, I realize that in all of the religious communities that have meant the most to me in my lifetime–beginning when I was a life guard at a Catholic summer camp–were strictly come as you are. In dress, and in other ways, too.

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