Clothing the SDA Clergy

May 10, 2007

clergy-dress-a.jpgIn 1903, following the lead of the GC, the (unofficial) South Africa Conference was remade into the (official) South Africa Union Conference with an American, W. S. Hyatt (pictured above) as president.

I found it intriguing that Hyatt is in this photo, wearing an item of dress not normally associated with SDA clergy.

Hyatt was not the only SDA minister to garb himself this way. It was apparently, relatively common amongst missionaries in certain parts of Africa.

The following picture of Mr & Mrs Walston–also missionaries in Africa illustrates this point. The caption also gives an explanation as to why this dress form was chosen: “to help smooth the way in many situations.” It seems then that wearing such an item of clerical costume enabled the wearer to be easily identified as a clergyman and that this recognition allowed the wearer to accomplished various tasks more easily.


My favourite item of history on the dress of SDA clergy comes from the cover of the July 1980 Ministry magazine. Enjoy:



  1. Do you have any information on Adventist pastors wearing robes?

  2. I remember a Hispanic Adventist pastor in Jersey that used to wear a collar, mostly to visit in prison.

  3. Wow, that is semiotically amazing. It’s interesting to see how signifiers such as “conservative,” non-feminine, “well-educated,” and “moral strength” are normed by the connection of text and cloth. And how the signs float free. Then, of course, a man of the cloth could say something like “there is no concrete heavenly sanctuary” and folks would react, “but he looked so masculine and conservative. What happened?”

    In this context of social, hermeneutical and theological upheaval, wouldn’t that be fun (ok, at least for me) to look at the relationship between institutional anxiety over doctrine and dress? What kind of theological language was added/emphasized in the Minister’s Handbook around the time (July 1980) that this issue of Ministry came out? Were people writing in to their conference complaining about short (theological) ties. . .to Ellen White?

  4. This is intriguing. I wonder to what degree clothes have inhibited women joining the ranks of the clergy. Is there actually any idea whatsoever as to how clergy-women “should” (not that I am wanting to legitimise the concept that particular clothes be considered normative for clergy) dress? Admittedly the priest as male is an iconic figure that is as much connected with clergy as the associated clothing. But obviously, men wear men’s clothes. True many Protestant denominations have abandoned specific dress codes, but the abandoning of “maleness” has been somewhat more reticent. At the very least pastor’s should wear trousers!

  5. I remember a Hispanic Adventist pastor in Jersey that used to wear a collar, mostly to visit in prison.


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