Originally created 06/26/04

The casual look is wearing thin with Augusta pastors



Dressing down for church has hit a low point with some Augusta pastors.

Casual wear has become more popular, and the number of people wearing tank tops, gym shorts, flip-flops, low-rise pants and midriff-baring tops to church services seems to go up with the temperature.

The past five years have been especially bad, said the Rev. Allan McDonald, the pastor of the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity.

He and some of his colleagues are at their wits' end trying to uphold decorum while not offending people, he said. He has put reminders in the church bulletin, preached about proper dress in his homilies and even asked women in low-rise pants and half-shirts to put on a sweater or leave.

"The prostitute look is not appropriate for church or for home life, either," he said.

When someone meets a head of state, there is an appropriate way to dress, and the same should be true when someone comes before the Creator, he said.

"We live in a casual world, and many have a casual relationship with God, but there has to be some sense of the majesty of God. It is not a relationship between equals," the Rev. McDonald said.

The staff at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church also is trying to stem the wave of secularization that makes no distinction between church clothes and the Britney Spears look.

Although it is good to have people in church whatever they are wearing, "church time is not ordinary time," said the Rev. Michael Roverse, the pastoral vicar at St. Teresa of Avila.

"(When people come in) Sunday dress - great hats, suits and ties, boys in jackets and girls in dresses - it is a festive event. It says something," he said.

Stevens Creek Community Church generally expects casual clothes for services. As a seeker-friendly church, Stevens Creek is organized around the idea of ministering to those who are unsure or negative toward church culture.

"People come as they are, spiritually and mentally, and we let them seek Christ at whatever level they happen to be," said the Rev. Gene Jennings, the administrative pastor.

Some pastors are just as likely as members in the congregation to wear polo shirts and slacks for services, though the Rev. Marty Baker usually wears a sport coat when preaching, the Rev. Jennings said.

If a woman came in looking like Ms. Spears, no one would say anything, he said, but she would likely feel uncomfortable because no one else would be dressed like that.

"We feel the environment speaks to what is acceptable or not," he said.

The Rev. Gregory Fuller, the pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, usually wears a polo shirt and slacks in the pulpit. It is what is inside, not outside, that matters, he said.

Whatever people feel comfortable wearing is acceptable at Macedonia, which has about 2,000 members. Some people come with bare midriffs, while others "are only comfortable in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes."

"But, for the most part, it is very relaxed," the Rev. Fuller said.

Most of the 600 people who attend Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Sundays go to the traditional coat-and-tie services, but about a third choose the casual, contemporary service where shorts and tennis shoes are fine for children 12 and younger.

A youth group from Louisiana "just showed up last week," said the Rev. John Watley.

"They were in jeans and pink T-shirts," the pastor said. "Our God wants us to wear and be the best we can with our dress."

Still, he said, the church leaves it up to people what to wear.

Asked, however, what would happen if someone showed up at the contemporary service with a bare midriff and low-risers.

"Whoa," he said.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.