Clergy Hot Under The Collar Wearing Vestments In Summer

By Ron Orozco

The Fresno Bee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
July 30, 2008 Wednesday

FRESNO, Calif. When outdoor temperature soared past 100 this season, we
can’t help but think of the poor souls donning the heavy gear at places
of worship. We’re talking clergy members and the vestments they wear.

Much respect, honor and authority is bestowed to those in vestments,
the garments worn during services and rites. However, their material
does not always agree with hot summer days and that can lead to some
embarrassing moments.

The Bee recently asked Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy
members to share their funny stories and tips in their quest to stay
cool and dry and all were good sports.

"Weight Watchers doesn’t have anything on us we sweat 10 pounds
out during a service," says the Rev. Jamie Evans, pastor of First
Presbyterian Church in downtown Fresno, Calif.

And the clergy members didn’t hold back revealing some little tricks
they resort to.


The Rev. Arshen Aivazian, pastor of St. Paul Armenian Church in central
Fresno, says he doesn’t look forward to wearing heavy vestments in
July and August.

"It’s hot. It’s hot," he laments.

Aivazian feels a little consolation, however, knowing it’s hotter in
Jerusalem than in Fresno. He grew up there. He also attended seminary
and spent the early years in priesthood there.

"It gets humid, and the air doesn’t move," he remembers. "You just
boil in vestments."

St. Paul, an Orthodox congregation, has one of Fresno’s most beautiful
sanctuaries. But, Aivazian notes, the air-conditioning ducts on the
altar serve only the deacons "and not me."

During the summer, Aivazian has a set of rituals to help him stay
cool. He takes a cold shower before heading to church for liturgical
services. He also applies Old Spice deodorant, his favorite never
anti-perspirant. He also shies away from aftershave lotion.

"It gets to be more annoying than anything and the smell gets worse
in the summer," he says.

Sometimes, the rituals don’t matter. The church’s air conditioning
was on the blink earlier this month when Aivazian donned special
white vestments, the appropriate color for Transfiguration Sunday.

"The white is semi-metallic and it’s heavy," he says. "Even with air
conditioning, it doesn’t penetrate the thick layers of that vestment."

And Aivazian roasted. It was so unbearable that he turned to the
congregation, saying, "Forgive me. I’m going to skip the sermon today."

Congregants, also feeling weary, applauded.

"By the time I came out of service and took the vestments off, I was
soaking wet," he says.

Then, Aivazian raced home and jumped in the pool.


The Rev. Clarence Eisberg, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in
northwest Fresno, says he has given a lot of thought to clergy members
and vestments.

He says clergy, historically, have used vestments for more than just
a sign of the pastoral office or a ceremonial style. In the medieval
period, priests also dabbed their faces with their stoles.

"It was grab the stole, wipe the face," he says. "I don’t do it."

Jorge Acuna, owner of San Joaquin Religious Goods, which sells
vestments and other items in Fresno, says vestments have served other
important purposes, particularly in pre-air conditioning.

"The heavy, flowing robes keep the heat out," he says. "With the
perspiration, they stay cool inside. It’s nature’s air conditioning."

Eisberg, however, says he would rather have air
conditioning. Unfortunately for him, however, Redeemer Lutheran’s small
sanctuary has a fan-shaped design, which limits the ducting system.

"Where I sit behind the altar, there isn’t a duct," he says. "There’s
air conditioning everywhere in our facility except that spot. I just
take out a handkerchief and wipe my forehead."

Eisberg’s current summer attire white linen robe and green stole with
gold embroidery may be lighter than that worn in other Protestant
denominations. And even with his favorite deodorant, Old Spice, it
still isn’t light enough. The other day, Eisberg asked the church’s
secretary to buy a circular fan and set it up behind the altar.


The Rev. Alex Ignacio, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in
east-central Fresno, says he wears lighter vestments made of cotton
or silk during the summer.

However, he does feel it, especially celebrating four Masses on
Sundays. Sometimes, he takes a shower in between Masses. He also
changes shirts under his vestment. And he wears sandals.

"Some people say, ‘Hey, he’s wearing sandals,’" Ignacio says. "I say,
‘Hey it’s hot.’"

Ignacio says some Catholic priests wear Bermuda shorts under their
vestments, but he would never do that.

"With regard to vestments, I try to be as sacred as possible,"
he says. "When you talk about liturgy, I try to be as faithful as


Evans, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, has no complaints about
the church’s air conditioning ducts. One is directly above the pulpit.

"I tell everyone I have 15 miles-an-hour wind pouring down on me,"
he says.

The sanctuary’s lights, however, also pour down on Evans. "You pump
yourself up 15 more degrees in the lights," he says.

And the material of Evans’ robe also shows no mercy: "It’s polyester
so you fry."

Evans sums up clergy robes and summer with a simple statement:
"It’s sweating through two shirts and a suit."

Evans remembers the unusual measures taken by one of his uncles, the
Rev. Gary Demarest, former senior pastor of La Canada Presbyterian
Church. Demarest had the pulpit designed in such a manner that he
could wear a T-shirt and running shorts under his robe and stole.

"And nobody knew," Evans says.


The subject of 112-degree temperatures and vestments came up during a
recent Sunday service at Memorial United Methodist Church of Clovis;
it was three days after the thermometer had reached that stifling mark.

Jim Acton, a church member, was ready to give the announcements in
a sport shirt and slacks. But he first commented on the Rev. George
Elgin’s attire gray robes with black stole and black doctoral stripes
on the sleeves.

"I’m feeling a little strange being the only one without a robe on,"
Acton says with a laugh. Then he noted the drop in temperatures from
that Thursday. "But after (112 degrees), today feels like spring."

Elgin, one of the church’s two retired pastors who still serve the
congregation, laughed with everyone else. He was substituting in
the pulpit for the church’s pastor, the Rev. Denice Leslie, who was
on vacation.

Elgin says it isn’t so bad wearing vestments because Methodist pastors
are given some flexibility.

When Elgin was a full-time pastor in Pueblo, Colo., he chose to wear
a stole and white short-sleeved shirt in the summer. He says the only
reason he wore a robe on the recent Sunday was the church’s other
retired pastor, the Rev. Newell Knudson, wore a robe and stole the
previous week.

"It’s cotton, and not that overly hot," Elgin explains.

Acuna, a member of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in west-central
Fresno, says it is important to him that congregants understand the
importance of the vestments.

"It’s a spiritual message," he says. "It reminds me of the sacrifices
_ the sacrifices of the body and blood of Christ. It’s about the