Other than weddings and funerals, there are only two times a year when I am likely to wear a necktie to the church here in Lincoln, Vermont: Christmas Eve and today, Easter Sunday. This is true with the vast majority of men in the congregation. There are usually 100 to 125 people in the sanctuary most Sundays, maybe 40 of whom are adult males, and other than our pastors and Mike Harding — who is jaunty enough to pull off a bow tie — it’s rare to see more than a necktie or two. We are, after all, a rural congregation halfway up Vermont’s third highest mountain.
But I’d wager that the dress code has grown more casual at most churches — much as it has on most airlines. We used to dress up for church and when traveling on a jet. These days, if it’s a warm morning in July, people will wear flip-flops on otherwise bare feet in both a sea level church and when traveling at 35,000 feet. (Reason number 17 why we need to cut the women and men with the TSA a little more slack: all those bare feet in the TSA body scanners.)
Now, my point is not to sound like a fuddy-duddy curmudgeon decrying how these days we all dress like teenagers on springbreak. I have absolutely no desire to wear a necktie to church more than two or three times a year. And if someone (not me) wants to walk around barefoot in the security line at Burlington International Airport, that’s between them and their travel-size tubes of Tinactin.
But I do love the way that even in a small rural church here in the middle of Vermont we still don our Sunday finest come Easter morning. There are actual bonnets in the sanctuary. There are men in neckties. There are women in heels. It’s terrific.
When I was a little boy, I had what could be called my Easter uniform because I only wore it on Easter: White shirt, clip-on red necktie, blue blazer. It was weirdly patriotic. And while the necktie is as red in my memories as it is in the Kodachrome photographs I found a few years ago in my father’s old photo albums, it’s a far cry from a Wall Street power red. It’s more like Easter egg red — a pastel. Besides, it’s a clip-on. How powerful can a clip-on necktie ever be?
Still, give me a necktie and I feel pretty darn dashing. This is true, apparently, even when I am wearing a clip-on. Exhibit A? One Sunday morning when I was a little kid in church in that blue blazer and red clip-on, I stood up in the pew while the rest of the congregation had their heads bowed in silent prayer and broke the quiet by shouting at the top of my lungs, “Sugar Pops are tops!” The way my parents would tell this story years later, my mom instantly reached out with one arm and took my knees out from under me, so I fell back into the pew like a marionette whose strings have been cut.
David Wood, the pastor at the United Church of Lincoln, has a collection of ties that can only be called … eccentric. I have seen him preach in Veggie Tales ties, Peanuts character ties, and Star Trek ties. And yet, somehow, he pulls it off. The look might not get five stars from the fashion police on TV, but it works here in Lincoln.
And it works here on Easter. Year after year, the church is never more crowded than it is today. This is the case with most churches. After all, churches everywhere right now are celebrating the reality that even in a world where it sometimes seems as if the jaded rule and snark is king, there is still room for faith and hope … and joy. And I can’t think of a better reason to get dressed up and wear a necktie.
Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Peace.