Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Covering Up In Church

Not the real Archbishop of Canterbury
With thanks, once again, to Rowan Atkinson, the proud claimant to the world's largest car-insurance payout!

In my little church at the posh end of Twickenham, we have been subject to the desires of an unknown soul to enforce exposure in the face of our absolute desire to cover up. It has now happened four times that I have witnessed this exposure, and the sensibilities of my punters have been seriously tested. Indeed, the  Sacristan's hair appears to have actually shrunk in recent weeks. 

For proper some Christians, it is the time of year when we cover up. If you don't cover up at this time of year you are a meagre different style of Christian who, rather than pursuing modesty, would rather remain exposed within your church buildings. Such behaviour is to be condemned celebrated as part of the diversity of the Church.

I know that most more than half of you are wondering what I am talking about, and it is true that you don't in fact know. If you were a proper liturgical Christian, you would know that on Passion Sunday, and then on until Easter Saturday, you would cover up all the images, statuary, crosses and crucifixes in the church. If you have ever wandered into a church where everything seems to be draped in little crimson or purple hankies, then there is a good reason (albeit a practice with a good reason that is almost completely extinct in Anglican circles). In very simple terms, the practice of covering up icons and all other images in the church is to remove those sources of personal comfort at a time when we are called to focus purely on the passion and the agony of Jesus Christ. For those of us who employ iconography  for example, as a tool for private devotion, this time is quite deliberately and actually a challenge. 

In my little church, we have been discovered a new phenomenon. As I have said, on four occasion I (or others) have come into the unlocked church to see most, if not all, of the coverings removed - and then folded neatly and placed besides the image in question. At such discoveries, the clothes were dutifully replaced thereby covering once again the images in question. At then it happened again; and again; and again. 

Part of me is apt to be a bit narky - and my instinct is often: "why don't you just leave the bloody things alone, whoever you are?". The larger part of me has wrestled that appetite and won as it occurred to me that for possibly the first time in the life of this parish, someone 'got it' - even though they didn't like it and reversed it. It tells me that the same person is in church when it is open, not to rob us of hymn books or let off fire-extinguishers, but to adore Christ. Whilst it is contrary to my practice, their removal of the coverings from the icons, images and crosses tells me that someone (as yet unknown) is committed, devoted and indeed comfortable enough in the church to undertake to find their own comfort in the sacred things. Put another way, one person who notices and objects is surely worth a hundred who don't notice at all.

I am unsure, for the record, if it is appropriate to cover up snare drums and amplifiers on Passion Sunday.  I cannot claim to know everything!


  1. Would it be possible perhaps to spray the (offending) covers with some indelible substance which would then reveal your secretive ecumenical, caught red or blue handed?
    Trouble is, what would you then do to the culprit.
    A thorny dilemma indeed.

  2. I like the cut of your jib, Barnes! I did think about electrifying some gold thread - but that seemed excessive!

  3. Hari OM
    First I am impressed that your church doors are at all left unlocked. I cannot recall how long ago it became a necessity to preserve the sanctity of the space, but I do wish it could be reversed and more churches remained 'at liberty'.

    As to the practice you describe; I am familiar with it only having read about it. The Presbyterian Church of course holds no such paraphernalia requiring modesty. As a practicing Hindu, it would be hard to persuade any of my peers to cover or remove any of the items held sacred. It possibly would incite a riot, not the quiet rebellion you appear to be faced with!

    It's all a bit (oh dare I say this on such slender acquaintance - yes go on YAM, a man who thinks of electrified drapes has a sense of humour) - well, it's all a bit Cloake and Dagger...*,-> I do hope you'll let us know if it's solved!



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