“Sure, I am going to dress like usual,” I said flippantly. My husband had just checked our church’s website and confirmed that all services would be live streamed online Sunday. But when Sunday morning rolled around, it seemed so easy to throw on shorts and a T-shirt and rather silly to put on a dress and fix my hair. I contemplated as I showered.
We had just finished watching "Fiddler on the Roof" – one of those three hour movies we would not normally consider watching. But the coronavirus lockdown had altered our perspectives and options. In the movie, a Jewish family struggled with their cultural traditions as World War II begins. One of their traditions comprised of elaborate preparations to welcome the Sabbath. I thought back to my own childhood. We, although not Jewish, had also prepared very conscientiously for our weekend worship. We cleaned the house, ironed church clothes, prepared a meal to heat up after church or share with others, made sure the car gas tank was filled and completed our tithe envelopes. Our evening dinner after preparations would often be one of my favorite meals, with everyone present and no television or radio. It remains a fond memory of preparing for and welcoming in a time set aside to be with our Lord.
My mind then recalled the gatherings at the church we were currently attending. The torn jeans of the keyboard player, the untucked shirt of the worship leader, congregants dressed in everything from suits to hoodies and sweatpants. I loved it that everyone felt comfortable to come-as-you-are to worship. I recalled my childhood church and thought how they would have made someone so casually dressed feel most uncomfortable if not unwelcome. A journal research article I had read in college came back to me; it documented the improved behavior of inner-city school children in California after a mandatory school uniform policy had been implemented — attendance improved, violence diminished, grades went up. Their change in clothing had altered their self-images and attitudes and increased their feeling of belonging.
I thought about the Old Testament characters using clothes as a sign of humility, tearing clothes or wearing sack-cloth. A show from the previous night came to mind. The guests were discussing how they were handling work-from-home and shelter-in-place orders, agreeing that they were all struggling with basic self-care like showering, fixing your hair, wearing the same clothes with food stains for three days and the unkind reactions of their family members. Who do I dress for? Do I dress to please me? My spouse? Other people? God?
I made up my mind as I got out of the shower and dried off. I am grateful for the ability to ‘have church’ in my pajamas while I eat Cheetos, I know there are times and seasons for that. The technology that sends the gospel into unlikely spaces is a blessing, and the gospel is not offended by what we wear. I also know that, like the school children in the article, I can affect my attitude by my attire and my attire can affect my behavior. Today I wanted “to be made new in the attitude of [my] mind and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” to be “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” For me, that meant preparing myself and my home for God’s manifest presence. I applied lipstick and slipped on some heels, grabbed my Bible and took my seat on the couch in our living room. My mind released from coronavirus thoughts and my spirit became immersed in worship.
Casual is fine, I don’t think my decision is for everyone; God is a parent who deals which each of His children individually. For me, at this season of my life, the carved out time I spend with God is sacred. I know clothing in not a determining factor in any way, the heart is the relevant concern, not outward appearances. Next week may be different, I may spend a little more time cleaning and preparing…or perhaps I will worship in my pajamas.
Tammie Stelter is a mother, wife and retired executive from the non-profit world. She helps run a small philanthropic organization that helps local church projects. She splits her time between Michigan and Florida.