A new Swiss clerical ‘vestment’ is giving lay men and women ministers a step towards the recognition and dignity they deserve.

Driving the news

The vestment in question is a new stole for lay men and women out of Fahr Monastery, in Switzerland.

The 4cm wide band of wool or silk is designed to attach at the left shoulder to an alb – the white garment symbolic of baptism worn by ministers and servers at liturgical celebrations – and to drape straight down the front of the garment.

The new lay stole is being specifically marketed by the Fahr Benedictine nuns, who make the product, as an extension of their line of stoles for priests and deacons.

Go deeper

But it’s just that name for the band of coloured cloth for laypeople – “stole” – that’s causing controversy.

The Fahr monastery manufacturers are defending the creation as a necessary adornment to the clothes of lay presiders.

“In Switzerlandmany communities, pastoral entities, and thus also worship services are led by female and male theologians; for oftentimes there are no priests or deacons.

“These female and male presiders for liturgical celebrations should be recognizable at first glance”, the monastery said announcing the new lay stole.

“Customers sense the need for female and male ministers who lead services to wear a recognizable sign”, added Manuela Camichel, leader of Fahr Monastery’s vestment workshop, who said the lay stoles are available in all the liturgical colours.

The problem is, though, that stoles are traditionally worn only by deacons, priests and bishops, either crossed from left shoulder to right hip in the case of a deacon or around the neck in the case of priests and bishops.

Not that those stipulations are of much concerns to the Fahr nuns, however.

“We offer this just as our competitors do”, said Camichel.

“The relevant authorities decide who wears the stole”.

Why it matters

Those “relevant authorities” – such as Gunda Brüske of the Liturgical Institute for German-speaking Switzerland – think the name ‘stole’ for a vestment for laypeople is a “touchy” subject.

Brüske admitted the understandable desire of lay ministers to wear a symbol in the colour of the liturgical season hasn’t yet borne satisfactory fruit, apart from the gaudy proposal of a coloured scapular.

But the liturgical expert also lamented the fact that the Monastery hadn’t been in touch to hear possible objections before it went ahead with the lay stole innovations.

For the record

Another stakeholder deploring the indisposition to dialogue of the lay stole workshop is Abbot Urban Federer, the abbot of Fahr and Einsiedeln Monasteries and the Swiss Bishops’ pointman on liturgy.

Federer explained that for the lay stole creators “the designation ‘stole’ is seen as a sort of working title, since ‘stole’ in general means a cloth that is more like a shawl than a liturgical vestment.

“The danger of confusion with the priestly or diaconal stole is entirely seen at Fahr.

“The vestment workshop is open to future discussion around an appropriate designation”, Federer promised.

But if Federer is concerned about the proliferation of lay stoles in Switzerland, he’ll have to call to order more than just the Fahr workshop.

The vestment maker Heimgartner in the city of Wil, for example, has been manufacturing “decorative stripes for laity” fixed with fasteners to change the stripe colours during the liturgical year.

Worthwhile initiatives both those of Fahr and Wil to advance the cause of the dignity of the laity, but at the same time attempts not exempt from polemics.

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