My dear friends,
It’s hard to believe after the torrential rain of the last couple of weeks, but it is not long since we were sweltering in day after day of relentless hot and humid weather. For those of us who have to dress-up, it was quite an intense trial. My own cross to bear came in the form of my lovely new cassock, the first in 20 years.
My first cassock was always a bit short for some clerical tastes, this one is much more classically cut to the floor. The style is particularly favoured by some members of the priesthood for the ethereal floatiness it adds for those looking to enhance the otherworldly dimension of their public persona. Personally, I think it can end up looking like God has given the Vicar a set of castors to move around on rather than legs. Nevertheless, that is how it came in the post and that is how I wear it. An additional burden in the heat was the fact that this time my cassock was made from wool, ideal for Astbury in the winter but less so when it enjoys a prolonged summer heat-wave. I have been melting!
I was inspired by the memory of working with the Rt Rev’d George Hacker, former Bishop of Penrith. He and I formed part of a delegation debating doctrinal matters with representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church. During a baking hot fortnight at the Holy Synod in Athens, the Bishop remained cool throughout by simply omitting to wear any trousers beneath his purple cassock.
Having perspired my way through quite enough services thank you very much, I decided it was time to follow the Bishop’s example. So one hot Sunday evening last month, safely hidden in my stall, I resolved that my suffering had gone far enough. It was time to apply some healthy common sense. Unfortunately, removing one’s trousers without removing one’s cassock is a skill I had never thought necessary to practice.
The window of opportunity in Evensong closed far too rapidly and found me still struggling with my belt as we were all asked to stand for the Psalm. The organ gave us the tune for the opening verses of Psalm 111, and as we began to chant "I will sing and give praise with the best member I have” my trousers slid silently down to my ankles.
As I moved to the pulpit to preach my sermon I was delighted to note that my cassock’s fuller cut completely obscured my hairy legs from public view. My mistake came as I preached on the role of the Old Testament prophet as a ‘revealer of truth’. I owned up to my state of undress which was, on reflection, a misjudgement. I fear the mental picture it generated did not contribute to the edification of the brethren, and any valid point concerning revelation I wished to make was completely blown out of the water by an illustration too distracting by half.
I therefore conclude that even if there is a valid time to remove one’s trousers, as we are advised in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a also ‘a time to keep silent’. I should have paid more attention to Psalm 147, verse 10: ‘The Lord taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man’.
And just a bit of advice, if you are ever tempted to ask the age old question ‘what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?’ I can assure you the best answer is actually ‘you really don’t want to know’.
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