The Fox and the Geese

Throughout the history of the church clergy have had a tendency to separate themselves from the laity through special titles and clothing. When the Church of Scotland was established in 1560 there was a drive to return to a simpler expression of church centred on the Lord Jesus so many of the privileges that had been enjoyed by the clergy were done away with. Special titles such as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Your Grace’ were replaced with the normal address for gentlemen which was ‘Mr’. The Presbytery minutes from the 18th century always refer to the Kirkcudbright ministers as Mr. Hope or Mr. Brown. The dress adopted by the reformed clergy was also simplified when they dressed as gentlemen without robes, gowns and scarves. But as the centuries passed by so the old tendencies returned. 

When, in the early 1800’s, the minister at Kirkmahoe wore a gown in the pulpit there was a rebellion in the community with many leaving the church saying that they refused to sit under a man ‘clothed with such a Babylonish garment.’ Today at inductions and introductions many Presbytery ministers will wear robes, gowns, scarves and hoods and sit apart from the elders. The title ‘reverend’ was originally a simple title of respect but eventually adopted by clergy and now comes in various degrees such as ‘right’, ‘most’ and ‘very’ depending on the degree of reverence felt to be appropriate.

One of the large number of carvings adorning the 15th century Roslin chapel is one depicting a clergyman in a pulpit addressing his congregation. The stonemason had a keen sense of humour and was making a valid point – he depicted the minister as a fox and the congregation as a flock of geese.

So why is it that the clergy have always had a tendency or need to elevate themselves above the people in the pews? Do they need a sense of status? Is it easier to preach and pastor from a position of power? I shall invite you, reader, to ponder upon this yourself.

So what did Jesus do? 
He sent his disciples out to the villages with no money, no food, no extra clothes, no bag for begging. They brought comfort and good news to the worried and helpless but did so from a position of humility and vulnerability.

Being part of a religions institution can bring a sense of identity, call and status but being a disciple of Jesus is a quite different call.


The fox preaching to geese

at Roslin Chapel

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