Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sanctuary Sights and Senses: Alb

This Sunday I will begin a series of short bulletin inserts on the various sights and sounds, etc. that we encounter in the sanctuary (at Centenary UMC).  I thought that I would post that series on my blog (with some slight modifications, given the difference in setting).  -  Please understand, this series involves short (bulletin insert size) articles intended primarily for the congregation at Centenary.  They are not nearly as detailed or technical as they might otherwise be.

The following (with those aforementioned modifications) is my first installment:

After talking a bit, I thought that writing a series of short articles as bulletin inserts on the various sights and sounds, etc. that we encounter in the sanctuary might prove to be interesting and perhaps even deepen our experience of worship.

I have heard that some are puzzled by my “robe,” so I thought I would begin the series with that. It is called an:  Alb - An alb is a full-length white tunic, often gathered at the waist by a rope cincture. Some albs include a hood.

In the first century, the tunic was the first article of clothing to be put on in the morning. During the first four centuries of the Church, people were baptized in the nude. (While I’m usually all in favor of being in continuity with the ancient Church . . . I do think we should “pass” on a revival of that particular practice!) Anyway, when they emerged from the water, they were immediately clothed with a white tunic or alb. Therefore, the alb is a reminder of our baptism, a symbol of purity and a symbol of the resurrection.

Anyone leading in worship, clergy or lay, may wear an alb. In fact, I’m not the only one who wears an alb at Centenary. The white “robes” that our younger acolytes wear are actually called “cottas” (KAHT.teh) and are a version of the alb. (I’ll write another article about that and another version called a surplice (SUR.plis) in the future.)

The alb is considered a very ecumenical vestment. It conforms to the practice of the ancient Church. It was the attire of Jesus. And it is the particular attire officially recommended for pastors by the United Methodist Church. (Plus, my alb was far less expensive than most preaching/academic gowns/robes!)


Information was gathered from the following resources:

Lang, Jovian P. Dictionary of the Liturgy. Catholic Book Publishing Co. New York. 1989.

Wall, John N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Cowley Publications. Cambridge/Boston MA. 2000.

Collins, Ken.


Eric + said...

One of my AngloCatholic friends loves to remind me that unless I put on a chausible I'm celebrating in my underwear...

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I didn't know that the alb was "officially recommended" by the UMC? Is that in a rubric someplace?
It certainly is alot cheaper than the geneva gown/preaching robe (mine ran over $600, while my hooded alb was only about 120).

In my conference there are a few clergy who wear the alb every week, and a few who wear no liturgical vestments at all, but I have the impression that the majority wear the black geneva gown; which I would guess was originally adapted from a cassock, but I'm not sure about that...

I'm a fan of both myself. The alb certainly is the more ancient. The geneva gown is medieval and represents teaching authority, and by tradition black habits or robes symbolize a life of simplicity.

Todd Stepp said...


According to Br. Taylor Burton-Edwards, Prior of the Cyber Chapter of the Order of St. Luke and the guy in charge of worship at the GBOD, the recommendation about what clergy should wear is found in the Ordinal of The United Methodist Church.

The current edition may be found on the gbod website. If you go to , then go down the left side to Ordination.

It is called, "Services for the Ordering of Ministries."

This is approved by General Conference and has full official status.