Western Pennsylvania United Methodists have a new bishop – and a new dress code. It’s WPA Chic!
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi made the announcement in her sermon when hundreds gathered on October 22 at the Crossfire Campus of Butler First UMC to officially welcome her as the new spiritual leader of the Western Pennsylvania Conference. Bishops and leaders of other denominations and ecumenical agencies were among the guests.
“To be Chic means to be stylish and smart. Chic dressers bring their own unique flair to their dress. Chic dressers are up with the cultural trends of the times, but not ruled by the fad of the times. They use the trends to enhance themselves and build on their best qualities. Chic dressers in fact set new trends," she said.
“When you dress black tie, everyone wears the same thing... But WPA Chic honors our diversity," she added. Casual dress doesn’t require any thought, she added, “but WPA Chic requires some intentionality – it requires dressing in a manner that allows you to be authentically who you are, but being deliberate in presenting yourself in a way that the world knows you are relevant." It shows that you know what’s going on in the world, and you have the power to transform what’s going on in the world, she explained.
Colossians 3:12-14, the verse that the Bishop said was being read when she was convicted, provides style pointers for WPA Chic:
As God’s chosen, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi explained the instructions this way:
Put on compassion – a heartfelt sympathy for the situations of others. We’ve got some folks trapped in poverty and addiction who need our compassion. They need to see that we are dressed for the job.
Put on kindness – active consideration for others’ needs. We have some children in our community who do not get their daily bread. In fact there are whole schools full of children receiving free and reduced-price lunches. They need to see us putting on some kindness.
Clothe yourselves with humility. Being able to count others as better than oneself. That means taking off an attitude of self-righteousness. There are some individuals and whole communities in this annual conference that are suffering from low self-esteem. They need to know that we think more of them than we think of ourselves.
Dress yourself in meekness – or courtesy. Be considerate, and be willing to wave your own rights rather than being concerned about your own personal gain in relationships with others.
Finally, put on patience -- Not becoming frustrated or enraged, but rather making allowances for others shortcomings and exasperating behavior. Putting on patience means forgiving 7x 70 times if that’s what it takes.
“Friends, we have a whole denomination that’s been dressing itself for a fight – a fight to determine who is right and who is wrong," Bishop Moore-Koikoi said. "We have a denomination that’s been dressing itself for schism.
“Our denomination needs to see us in WPA Chic attire – dressed for patience – not getting frustrated when other annual conferences and jurisdictions do things that are exasperating to us – but rather patiently allowing God to wrestle with us as a denomination until we ALL are blessed! I hope you're ready and I hope you are dressed.”
The Bishop offered one other pointer: “With WPA Chic, you’re not allowed to be over-dressed. “You see,” she explained:
I don’t want you to put on too much compassion so that you shy away from accountability.
I don’t want you to overdress with kindness and cease to be a good steward of what God has given you.
I don’t want you to overdress with humility and deny the good gifts God has given you for ministry.
I don’t want you to overdress in meekness so that you don’t speak up at the table.
I don’t want you to overdress with patience so that you lose the sense of urgency that there is in fighting for justice and bringing social holiness to the land.
“We who are WPA Chic know just the right amount of clothes to put on,” Bishop Moore-Koikoi declared.
“Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience..are undergarments,” she said. “Yes, your Bishop is talking about undergarments!
The author of Colossians, she said, urged us to cover ourselves above all with love. "Love is patient .. kind” she said, paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi said “when we put on love, we will be able to work in perfect harmony to do the work God has called us to do as an annual conference.” But, she issued a warning:
“Harmony requires difference, and difference sometimes causes dissonance, which is jarring to the ear, but necessary to move to harmony. There are going to be moments when I deliberately produce some dissonance, in order to move to harmony.
“I’m going to do that because WPA Chic is not stagnant – always moving on to compassion, draping it all in love,” she said.
“This annual conference is diverse theologically, and economically, and you all have asked me to become more racially diverse. That’s gonna create some dissonance.
“Our denomination has asked us to have some conversations about homosexuality, and that’s gonna create some dissonance.
Noting the five areas of focus adopted by the Conference, she added: “We’ve said we are here to develop principled leaders, to develop new places, to be in ministry with the poor, improve health globally and dismantle racism. If we’re going to do all that, we have to remember the dress code.”
Sometimes our dress helps us to show who we are, she said, but before we focus on attire, we must first know who we are.
“Western Pennsylvania, know first who you are. You are God’s chosen, holy and beloved!....Adorn yourself accordingly,” she declared.
The Bishop said that as often happens when you preach the word, God started working in her and talking to her about her own dress.
“God said, if you’re gonna be WPA Chic, you’re gonna have to bear ALL things, and so God had me buy some accessories for my wardrobe, she said, waving the trademark Pittsburgh Steeler’s Terrible Towel. “It’s got bling!” said the long-time Baltimore Ravens fan. “… it hurt me, but that’s love....Then God said, accessories are not enough – you gotta be all in!”
With that, the Bishop unzipped her robe, revealing a gold Pittsburgh Steelers football jersey over her “episcopal purple” dress and collar.
After the benediction, the Bishop led the way, waving the Terrible Towel, as leaders and the congregation exited, “Marching in the Light of God.”