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Sitting behind the mask of ‘our Sunday best’

Dress up for church, or come as you are? “If coming to church requires me to dress, behave and be presentable in a way not required of me at other times, then surely it is not the ‘real’ me who sits in the pew,” says prison chaplain Major Russell Anderson.


There was a time when getting ready to go to church involved putting on your ‘Sunday best’. For people of my vintage, ‘Sunday best’ clothes had a special place in the wardrobe and were only ever worn to church.

This included children. Parents dressed their kids in ‘special’ clothes with strict orders to keep them clean – no playing, no climbing and definitely no kicking balls.

My wife and I brought up our children similarly – dressing them to look presentable before we stepped out every Sunday morning. And what do you know? Our daughter does the same with her children!

On reflection, I now see that what might seem entirely appropriate, even innocuous, in this routine can actually have consequences in how we connect with God, and him with us, during that time we call ‘church’.

If coming to church requires me to dress, behave and be presentable in a way not required of me at other times, then surely it is not the ‘real’ me who sits in the pew. Unintentionally, I have been encouraged to pretend, to put on ‘a mask’, and to present myself to others and God in a way that says, ‘All is A-OK in my life’.

Just as you are

I have been involved in prison ministry for the past seven years, and there is no ‘Sunday best’ in chapel on Sundays. Guys come in their ‘prison greens’, the same outfit they would wear lounging around their unit, doing laps in the yard, in the classroom or at work. They have no option. They are not expected to present differently on Sundays than on any other day of the week in any other setting. It’s like the real them comes to church, which is sometimes proven in their behaviour and vocabulary. But, you know, it is equally proven in their openness and honesty around messed up lives and one’s need for God and his forgiveness. There is a sense that they ‘Come, just as you are to worship’, as we sometimes sing.

What do you think God does with that?!

Unfortunately, this concept of ‘putting on your Sunday best’ can affect more than our outward appearance. When we are conditioned to accept that one must look and behave in a particular way in a church setting, what happens to us when we sit next to someone who didn’t get that memo? How is our openness to the Holy Spirit’s presence and his still, quiet voice affected? How honest can we be around our need for God’s intervention when we sit behind the mask of ‘our Sunday best’?

Now, I do believe some preparations are helpful before entering a time of structured, corporate worship and teaching held in the presence of our mighty, Holy God. But I don’t believe they include ‘putting on’ anything that might add another layer over the ‘real’ me. Even before our ‘Sunday best’ goes on, don’t we already practise hiding and covering up the real needs in our life from others, even God? Maybe our preparations would be more helpful if they included ‘putting off’ things?

I’m reminded of something Jesus said. When his disciples came to him contemplating what greatness looked like in heaven, Jesus centred his attention on a little child and said to them,

“ ...‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Maybe we would be better served when preparing for Sunday church to intentionally:

• Put off our adult pride and humble ourselves as a child. • Put off our adult independence and acknowledge our need for ‘Abba, Father’. • Put off our adult ‘correctness’ and speak and behave with the innocence of a child. • Put off our adult judgements and learn child-like acceptance.

Imagine how different our Sunday church experience would be if all prepared in prayer and meditation around this self-honesty rather than adding ‘a mask’.

What do you think God would do with that?

Major Russell Anderson is The Salvation Army Prison Chaplain at Marngoneet Barwon, Marngoneet (Vic.)


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