Why Wear a Stole?

During my time in seminary, which ended a mere six years ago, the only instruction that I received regarding the wearing of a liturgical stole was that it signified taking on the mantle (responsibility) of leadership in the church.  While this is very important and significant, it would have been helpful if someone had taken the time to talk to me about appropriate colors, themes, materials, occasions, lengths, seasons, etc. before launching me into the world of ministry.

Consequently, one of the first stoles I made for a beloved mentor was of a beautiful purple fabric, emblazoned with one of my now signature figures, praise dancers sashaying gaily down both panels.  Though this stole was wrong on so many levels (it was summer, not a purple season and praise dancers do not go with the sorrowful themes denoted by purple), my wise elder wore that stole with the pride of a peacock.  He has gone on to glory now, but my gratitude is immense.

Many questions were raised above, but for today, we will stick to the main question: Why wear a stole?  The purpose for any liturgical art should be to help sweep the viewer’s spirit ever closer to God.  Liturgical art is not for decoration, to make the sanctuary look pretty, or so that all the pastors are dressed alike.  The only purpose of stoles, altar cloths, banners, etc. is to help the worshipper focus on God.  Simple as that.  If a stole does not do that, it is not a good stole.

A stole can accomplish this goal through its color or colors, by the meaning of any embellishments, by its level of formality or appropriate informality.  If a stole is garish, or distracting, it is probably not directing those who see it in a prayerful direction.

While the stole is important to those who see it from the congregation side, it is important from the wearer’s side also.  How does it make the wearer feel?  It should have enough weight to remind one of it’s purpose, but not be so heavy as to be onerous.  Natural fibers will be most comfortable.  It should curve comfortably around the neck and hang flat down the front, not riding or slipping to the back.  It should not be to long or too short, hanging about six inches from the floor.  Most of all a stole should help the liturgist get in the Spirit!

Stay tuned for more information on Clerical Stoles and Liturgical Art.


Rev. Paula Sanders