By John Martin

A consultation is studying whether Church of England clergy can be freed from requirements to wear traditional clerical dress. It is the first formal step toward easing dress requirements in order for churches to be seen as more relevant in contemporary culture.

Opponents of relaxing clergy dress believe it could leave leaders looking slovenly. While canon prescribes that clergy should wear an alb or surplice. Many disregard that canon, particularly at informal services and modern services. Church rules do not require wearing clerical collars, but most clergy wear them as a mark of their role and calling.

This month General Synod will consider a consultation paper that suggests priests may, with a parish council’s agreement, depart from traditional vesture during Communion and other regular services. Family preference would prevail at weddings.

The consultation paper comes with caveats: clergy dress should be “seemly” and should not involve any “any departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.”

The Rt. Rev. Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, told the Daily Telegraph there were two main arguments: “If that canonical compulsion were to be relaxed, some people say then the church would be more relevant to the modern society, and they believe that passionately. Others say that if that were to happen the church would lose some of its distinctiveness.”

The Rt. Rev. Peter Broadbent (Willesden, Diocese of London) said he sometimes felt “underdressed” in absence of “episcopal bling” (mitre, robes and crozier). He added: “I wear [the mitre] when I’m in a place which dresses up and wants a bishop looking, as they would see it, properly like a bishop.”

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