Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sanctuary Sights and Senses: Stoles

The following is the fifth installment of my bulletin insert series: 

Stoles - Often times you will see clergy wearing stoles in worship. Stoles are long narrow bands of fabric. Usually, the stoles are in the liturgical color of the season or day based upon the Christian year. (More will be said about the Christian Calendar and the symbol of colors in a later insert.). Sometimes they have various symbols embroidered on them.

Stoles may be worn over robes, albs, or cassocks & surplices. (More about the cassock and surplice in a later insert.) They are worn by those who have been ordained as a deacon or an elder (presbyter/priest). Since Bishops are also elders, they, too, wear stoles in worship.

However, the way in which deacons and elders wear their stoles is different. Deacons traditionally wear their stoles over their left shoulder like a sash. It is then connected under the right arm. Elders (including Bishops) wear their stoles around the neck with the ends hanging down the front and just below knees.

Whereas robes, albs and even cassocks & surplices may be worn by any of the baptized, clergy and laity, alike, liturgical stoles are visible signs that one has been called by God and ordained to lead the community of faith in the sacramental life of the Church. The stole represents the “yoke of Christ” which the elder has assumed by virtue of his/her ordination.


Information gathered from the following resources:
Collins, Ken.  
Hickman, Hoyt L.  United Methodist Altars: A Guide for the Local Church.  Nashville. Abingdon P. 1984.
Lang, Jovian P., OFM.  Dictionary of the Liturgy.  New York. Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1989.
Wall, John N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Cambridge/Boston, MA. Cowley Publications. 2000.
Wilson, Frank E. An Outline of Christian Symbolism. New York. Morehouse-Gorham Co. 1938.


Eric + said...

Only in the RCC have I ever seen a stole worn over a cassock/surplice. In the Anglican Tradtion (Methodism?)the cassock/surplice is considered choir vestments not liturgical vestment. The stole is a distinctly liturgical vestment to be worn with alb & chausible. A tippet is a stole-like vestment that is black with the denominational seal and the seminary seal and is worn over the cassock/surplice in non-sacramental services (ie morning prayer)...

Todd Stepp said...


You are correct that the cassock/surplice is often worn during Morning/Evening Prayer. You are also correct about the usage of the tippet (mine has the OSL seal on it).

However, as to your saying, "Only in the RCC have I ever seen a stole worn over a cassock/surplice. . ." I am tempted to say, "You need to get out more!"

First, it is true that the "cassock alb" (what most of us are referring to when we say "alb") has become (perhaps) more of the norm for many Anglicans. However, the surplice IS an alb; a medieval verson of the alb.

The cassock was/is "street clothes." The surplice is the type of alb worn over the cassock during worship.

As an alb, stoles (and, yes, a chausible) may be worn in Anglican worship. And they are worn by many in the Anglican tradition, especially traditional Anglicans. In fact, I would guess that I have probably been in more Anglican services where the cassock/alb w/stoles has been worn (with chausible at the point of Eucharist) than those where the cassock alb has been worn.

This, too, would be the way that JW would have been "vested" during divine worship, and at his ordination(i.e. with the 18th century cassock/surplice/stoles combo. Now in academic settings and in preaching services, he would have also worn the preaching gown.)

But, they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so, check these out: (My friend in Evansville - REC/ACNA) (Also REC/ACNA; went to NTS with him) (This is a CANA/ACNA site. You have to go to the section for 2010 Cana Council, and it should be the first picture.) (This is a woman from the Anglican Church in Canada)

BTW, it has been my experience (when attending the World Methodist Conference in Brighton, England) that the custom for British Methodists is to simply wear a cassock with stoles (no surplice).

If those websites don't work, let me know and I'll try to find the problem.


Todd Stepp said...

BTW, if there are any Anglicans (or British Methodists?) reading this comments section, it would be great to hear from you!


Todd Stepp said...


Sorry, I intended to include this photo link from the APA:


Eric + said...

I prefaced my comments with "I've only seen" for a reason. I also have heard/seen the historical side of your comments. I was only speaking to what I have observed of current practice, not historical in my little corner of the world.

I did ask an Episcople priest friend that I went to seminary with as well as an anglo-catholic organist and they both confirmed the difference between choir vestments and liturgical vestments and their respective usages.

But I am also always open to others' experience and observation as well.

btw... I'm about to start a DMin with a bunch of Brittish Anglicans (at Trinity School for Ministry) in January. I'll ask them their opinions some day and let you know what their experience is.

D. Straw said...

I am an Anglican priest in the ACNA/Reformed Episcopal Church. Historically speaking cassock/surplice and stole is "official" (Since Queen Elizabeth's time) dress for Anglican clergy. Eric is pretty on it in regards to the use of the tippet.

Most "higher" church Anglicans tend to wear alb, stole and chasuble when celebrating the Eucharist.


D. Straw said...

I have found this site to be a good overview to pint laity to:

Todd Stepp said...

Thanks, David+, for pointing out the website.

You will notice that, not only is Ken's site listed on my side bar, but it is also included as a resource at at the bottom of a number of the articles in this series.

However, I've only listed the main site, and you have very helpfullly listed the specific page on which to find this information.


D. Straw said...

Pastor Todd: I have been in such hurry recently that I didn't even notice it at the bottom of the article as source. That is too funny!

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

When I was an assistant at the Cox Chapel service of Highland Park United Methodist Church ( it was our custom (United Methodists, mind you) for clergy to wear albs + stoles during some seasons and cassock & surplice + stoles in others.

I currently serve a Wesley Campus ministry with ecumenical support. I typically wear a stole during our services on campus (without any sort of robe) to maintain the connection to the vestment traditions.

At our local Episcopal sponsor church - the current clergy are Evangelical Anglicans and usually wear the cassock & surplice + stole when leading the service. The former rector was an Anglo-Catholic and wore and alb with a stole and a chasibule over it.

Todd Stepp said...


Thanks for your comments. The practice of alb in some seasons and cassock in others is what I was thinking about here, at Centenary.

The only problem is, when I purchased my (very inexpensive, altered, altar-server) cassock, it fit me considerably better than it does now. - Funny how something can shrink just hanging in a closet!

BTW, which seasons did you wear the cassock, surplice, stoles combo?

Eric + said...

This is quite the interesting conversation. I'm looking forward to the answer to Todd's question.