Sundays best?

Young people caught in the church dress code debate

Young people caught in the church dress code debate

August 20, 2005|By Tiffany Arnold

Chris Wiles, 23, knew there would be objections to someone wearing a black T-shirt with a skull and crossbones, cutoff shorts and dusty Converse Chuck Taylor Classics for a Wednesday night Bible study.

But that's what he wore.

As society grows more informal, some young churchgoers might find they're caught in the middle of a broader debate on social dress codes.

The issue erupted nationally when members of the Northwestern University lacrosse team showed up at the White House wearing flip-flops for a meeting with the president.


Now, some local churches are tangled in the social dress debate. Tension has arisen between traditionalists and churches that favor a more casual ministry, said Randy Buchman, lead pastor at Tri-State Fellowship in Hagerstown.

"There has been a movement within this last generation for an informal kind of ministry, more oriented on people and less on clergy," Buchman said.

Generally, young people are those most affected by dress code policies at church, said Alan M. Greijack, senior pastor at Gateway Ministries in Williamsport. He said his church doesn't make clothes an issue for the hundreds of youths who attend Sunday services there.

"It's not like we stand at the door with a checklist," Greijack said. "We're more interested in getting them there."

Talysa Linton, 14, of Hagerstown, said she stopped going to a Boonsboro church, which is no longer operating, because couldn't wear shorts. She said that on three occasions, the church's shuttle bus refused to give her a ride because of what she was wearing.

"They made us dress up," Linton said. "If we didn't, we couldn't come."

Linton said she now attends First Baptist Church in Hagerstown, where there is no formal dress code.

Pastor Thom Smith, of First Baptist, said dress policies are divisive and people who won't go to a church because the members dress too casually were "going for the wrong reasons."

Despite that, "I think it can definitely keep people away from churches," Smith said.

Wiles attends Tri-State Fellowship church in Hagerstown. The church doesn't have a dress code, but Wiles said he wouldn't wear a T-shirt and shorts - what he wore to his weekday Bible study - to Sunday service.

Wiles said people should adhere to their church's dress codes "out of respect to the church."

Jennifer Donius, 21, of Hagerstown, also attends Tri-State Fellowship. She said she chooses to dress up on Sundays, but said it was unfair for people to judge those who don't.

"They're trying to judge people by what they wear on the outside," she said. "They're condemning themselves."

Church leaders may agree that members of their congregations should give their best when it comes to God, "but what's considered best?" asked the Rev. George Limmer, of St. Mary's Catholic Church.

St. Mary's doesn't require members to dress formally, but Limmer said blue jeans fall on "the lower end of what is acceptable."

The church posted guidelines in its church bulletin this summer. According to those guidelines, "clothing that might be fitting at a picnic or the beach is not acceptable for church."

But Limmer said the church wouldn't turn anyone away for wearing clothing that some might consider to be inappropriate.

For Scott Powell, 22, of Greencastle, Pa., "Sunday's best" is a T-shirt, shorts and sandals.

"When I was younger, my parents made me (dress up) but now I really don't see the point," Powell said. "I think it's just a facade."

Others say people put too much focus on clothes. Mark Snyder, associate pastor at First Baptist, said what's on the outside won't matter much in the end.

"Jesus wore sandals," Snyder said.

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