Purple Shirts, Crosses, and Other Stuff

Bishop Epps

By Bishop David Epps

“What’s with the difference in all the clergy, the different colored shirts they wear, the crosses, and the ‘plus’ signs?” Such have been a few of the questions I have received since my consecration as a bishop in November. I realize that some of what we do, how we act, and what we wear in my denomination is strange to those of evangelical Protestantism—although we most certainly are evangelical, too. So, in the unlikely event you have any interest whatsoever in such things, allow me to share a few brief words.

There are three types of clergy in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, as in most communions that claim the designation, “one, holy,catholic and apostolic Church,” with all three being ordained ministers: deacons, priests, and bishops. The laity are also ministers by virtue of their baptism. Actually, the men and women of the Church are THE ministers of the congregation–the ordained clergy are like the “coaches” with the laity being the “players” on the field and in the game.

Deacons in our denomination are not to be confused with evangelical protestant deacons, who, for the most part, are laymen (or, perhaps, women “deaconesses”). They are not ordained clergy, and they serve on a “board” or some other governing council and may have other assignments. They are not normally authorized to do priestly or sacramental duties, although good deacons in an evangelical church are a very valuable asset to the pastor and the church.

Our deacons are fully ordained clergy and, under certain circumstances, may marry, bury, be a pastor, serve Eucharist, or Holy Communion, with pre-consecrated elements, counsel, pray, baptize, and assist the priest or bishop, among other duties. Deacons in our communion wear a gray clergy shirt—the traditional “collar.” On Sundays, they wear a stole, or a colored cloth, over a white robe that is diagonal from the left shoulder to the right side of the waist. Deacons represent the servant heart of Christ. They wear a silver, pewter, or wooden cross on a black cord. Some deacons are “permanent deacons” and will serve God as lifetime servants, usually in one church, unless they move to another location, assisting the priest and bishop. They are ordained by the denomination, not the local church. Other deacons feel called to the pastorate and are “transitional deacons” who, one day, may be ordained to the priesthood and will plant a church.

Priests may perform all of the sacraments (and there are seven in our church) except for confirmation and ordination. They wear a black clergy shirt, although they may also choose to wear gray at times. On Sundays, their stole hangs straight down from the shoulders on both sides in the front. They wear a silver cross and chain. Priests represent the father heart of God. A priest may use a cross, or a plus sign, after his name in correspondence, for example, “Father John Brown +.” The cross indicates that he is a priest. Priests never stop being “deacons” and should be good examples of humility to the deacons, as far as their “servant hearts” are concerned.

Bishops may perform all of the sacraments. They wear a purple clergy shirt but–guess what–they may also choose to wear black or gray! Confused yet? They wear a gold cross and chain and wear a ring on their right hand indicative of their office. A bishop is the chief pastor in a diocese and is a pastor to ALL the members of the churches but especially to the deacons and priests. In our communion, bishops who lead a diocese are to be pastors of their own churches—demanding to be sure, but good for keeping their feet on the ground and their heads out of the ozone—hopefully.

The bishop represents the government of God–but he should also be a prime example of a servant and be a good spiritual father. A bishop always remains both a deacon and a priest. The bishops may use a plus sign, or a cross, in FRONT of their name as in: “+ John Brown.” The cross takes the place of the word “bishop.” So, “+ John” means “Bishop John.” Sometimes, archbishops are shown with two cross in front of their name, as in “++ John Brown.”

Deceased believers also have a cross in front of their names in the programs of special services such as All Saints Day, i.e., “+ Dorothy Brown.” So both bishops and deceased people have crosses in front of their names,which says something–I don’t know exactly what– but something. Perhaps, that the bishop is dead and that the archbishop is doubly dead! I hope that’s not the case.

But the truth is that it’s ALL about the High Priest and, if it’s not, we are wasting our time. Jesus is the High Priest in the midst of his people and He is the consummate servant, father, and king. Don’t get all hung up about this stuff. It’s all signs and symbols—although it may also be strikingly beautiful to behold– that point to a greater reality.

On Sundays, I wear a purple “beanie-thingy” called a “zucchetto,” also spelled, “zucchetta,” not to confused with a “zucchini.” Actually, it’s sort of a “red-purple.” A young boy asked me the other week, “Why do you have to wear that pink hat in church?” “For humility,” I said. “For humility.”

At least, that’s my take on it as a brand new bishop. If I have shared any incorrect information, I am certain that someone will correct me–but it’s okay. I wear a pink hat and am learning humility.

+ David Epps is a Provincial Auxiliary Bishop serving the Mid-South Diocese and is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. He is also the Mission Pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org. The church has a web site at www.ctkcec.org.

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