Saturday, 2 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 16: Colour Me Beautiful

I went to have my 'colours' done once and discovered I was 'Autumn'. Apparently I should wear 'mosses', 'heathers', 'teal' and various shades of brown. Nothing stark; it's bad for my skin tone. I was a bit freaked by the pop psychology which accompanied my colour assessment: 'Autumn' is the season of change - Autumn people often have a life change in their mid thirties to forty... I was considering vocation to the church at the time so this exactly fitted...spooky. What they didn't realise was that as an 'Autumn' person heading towards Anglican Ordination, trying to avoid wearing both black AND white was going to be a problem. 

For a while I carried around a little 'colours' card in my pocket to prevent me buying something in scarlet or navy which would take me down a non-psychologically appropriate fashion dead end, but whether it was auto -suggestion or not, from that time on, I never could get the hang of bold colours. Give me a sludgy brown/green any day, or a faded purplish grey. Or anything brown/aubergine/vaguely maroon. Maybe it was just middle age, but I wanted everything to be in-between-y. And Autumn-y.

It will come as a shock to life long Anglicans, but I managed to reach the age of 40 before realising that the C of E employed a kind of 'Colour me Beautiful' approach to the liturgical seasons (without the pop psychology). It was only when I was let loose in the Church vestry to show off the vestments to some local primary school kids that I pieced together the whole 'purple, white, red, green' thing. And they match the altar frontals, see? Clever!!!

But liturgical colours are not very autumn-y - no intermediate browns; no greys or 'aubergine', no 'mustard'. It's just straightforward penitential purple (Lent and Advent); white or gold for celebrations - Christmas, Easter Day; red for the blood of the martyrs and for Pentecost (and Palm Sunday, just to catch you out) and green for growing, or 'Ordinary Time', stretching out across the summer and into harvest.

Does this make the church (or God) uncompromising? It is certainly true that you cannot be an 'in between' martyr - if you are going to spill blood, it had better be properly red. Similarly there's nothing at all half hearted about the fire of the Spirit. Then it's white for purity - holiness cannot be intermediate. Perhaps we're permitted a bit of variation in liturgical green or purple....

Then I came across this chart (right). In terms of liturgical definition and reserving the right to give those bold colours a generous dash of poetic license (lift them above the mere 'red, green, purple') there are clearly those in the church who want to have their cake and eat it. Would anyone like to own up?


  1. As if vestments etc. aren't expensive enough without going for different shades as well! My stoles (which were either bought by, or given to, me) clash wonderfully (or woefully, according to taste) with the frontals and hangings in ALL my current churches.

    BTW you missed the various options for the blue to celebrate the Marian festivals :)

    1. Hopefully one day my liturgical education will go as far as to encompass Marian blue!!

  2. I'm also ordained and meant to wear Autumnal colours. I do not look good in black or white, but for day to day, I tend to add layers of sludgy green over the black and white.
    I'm really enjoying this series of blog posts btw. Thanks for writing.

  3. This is a lovely post from wife of a colleague...