Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Worship Casual

There is a longstanding debate over what constitutes proper church attire. Many of us were raised with the idea that you wore your “Sunday best” out of respect for the Lord. It would be unthinkable to enter a house of worship wearing sandals or a pair of shorts. Many modern churches have adopted a “come as you are” policy that attempts to place the emphasis on worship rather than wardrobe.  White Tail Chapel in Southhampton, Virginia has avoided any potentially divisive stance by not requiring clothing at all.

Pastor Allen Parker says he came to the idea of nude worship after concluding that the clothing requirements of other churches were pretentious and encouraged materialism. He points out that many of the most pivotal moments in scripture featured nudity. From the debut of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the resurrection of Christ in the Gospels, Pastor Parker reminds us that the Bible features many a birthday suit. The church even performs and encourages nude weddings where the bride, groom, and attendees are encouraged to put it all out there.
While the minister chooses to deliver his sermons in the buff, others simply expose their breasts or genitals. White Tail Chapel even has several regular attendees that dress traditionally. Worshippers insist that the clothing-optional policy is not a distraction and everyone is more concerned with hearing the word of the Lord than analyzing the bodies of other members.

First of all, I checked several news sources because a story about a demographically-Caucasian nudist church named “White Tail Chapel” just seemed too good to be true. However, it would appear that Pastor Allen Parker and the members of his flock are true believers. The biggest issue I had were the people that chose to simply “take out their genitals” in lieu of actual nudity.  Maybe I operate on a lower spiritual plane, but I would think such an act would be more distracting than just going full monty. Rather than fellowshipping, I would spend the entire sermon wondering what kind of person whips out his frank and beans but is too modest to unbutton his shirt?

It was also unclear if the service begins with nudity or there is an appropriate time specified in the bulletin where disrobing is expected. I can imagine the choir director standing up and saying, “If you will all turn to page 567 in your hymnals, unbutton your blouses, and sing the first three stanzas of How Firm a Foundation.” My luck I would probably show up and be halfway out of my pants before someone leaned over and informed me that they stay fully-dressed on Palm Sunday.

I would imagine that one of the many challenges of a nudist church is the offertory. Attendees have a built-in excuse for not carrying cash and you wouldn’t want to be seated at the end of the pew while the usher is standing there waiting on the offering plate. Communion could get dicey (especially if your congregation favors intinction) and youth trips would need twice the amount of chaperones.

Despite the obvious pitfalls of naked church, there are several upsides. It is unlikely that anyone would challenge you for your usual seat once your nether parts have become acquainted with the cushion and you wouldn’t have to constantly ask Brother Dave how his surgical scars are healing. Money could be saved on choir robes and separate restroom facilities would be unnecessary.

The weddings would be an entirely different issue. I can think of only a few places my best man could have stored the ring until it made its ceremonial debut and I would rather not bear witness to its retrieval. Also, dripping wax from the unity candle could cause some rather debilitating injuries to the happy couple. Either way, I believe the prospect of being walked down the aisle naked by your own father would drive elopements to an all-time high.

I consider myself fairly progressive when it comes to worship attire, but there is a big difference between making your peace with cargo shorts and being comfortable having the guy behind you whisper that the mole on your inner-thigh has irregular edges. I can applaud the spirit of the pastor, but perhaps the answer lies closer to casual Friday than commando Sunday.  

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