Countdown to Ordination: The Bishop's Vestments
Bishops are easily recognized by their regalia: mitre, pectoral cross, ring, crosier and other emblems and garments that are distinctive to the Order of Bishop. Many of these symbols date back to the Middle Ages and continue to be used as a sign of office.
When the Rev. Deon Johnson becomes Bishop Deon Johnson, he will receive many gifts that carry on this tradition. But along with the tradition and symbolism, Bishop-elect Deon is selecting items that reflect his own style, personality and history. We finish our special series of articles with a closer look at the Bishop’s Vestments.
The Bishop’s Vestments
Vestments are distinctive garments worn by leaders of the church’s worship. Many vestments are descended from the ordinary dress of the imperial Roman society in which the early church came into being.
Like his other gifts, Bishop-elect Deon Johnson has selected vestments that reflect the church’s history along with his own history.
When he is ordained on June 13, our new bishop will don a beautiful red silk chasuble. The chasuble is the outermost, oval or circular-shaped covering worn by priests. Their colors often reflect the calendar year or day being celebrated.
Bishop-elect Deon selected the Rev. Tom Honderich, a textile artist from Indiana, to design this unique garment. For design inspiration, he gave Tom several pictures of icons -- figures from the Bible, mentors in his life, and other people he admires. He didn’t know exactly what the garment was going to look like until he received it.
“I had to pick up my jaw off the floor!” Bishop-elect Deon said. “It is beyond what I expected.”
The designer created embroidered squares picturing eight of the icons along with several Coptic crosses. Those meticulously embroidered squares adorn the chasuble down the sides of the front and the back. Tom estimates there are millions of stitches in the artwork -- approximately 50,000 on each of the eight icons, and about 10,000 on each of the crosses.
The figures stitched onto the chasuble not only make a beautiful cloak, they also make a great history lesson:
Bishop Barbara Harris: the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion and a mentor of Deon Johnson while he was in seminary. She died March 13, 2020. We commemorate her ministry with our ordination service on June 13.
Langston Hughes: American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was originally from Joplin, Missouri and is a favorite artist of our bishop-elect.
Errol Barrow: an Anglican priest and the first Prime Minister of Barbados, where Bishop-elect Deon was born. Barrow founded the first African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in the US Virgin Islands and eventually moved to New York, where he became a bishop in the AME church.
Frankie Muse Freeman: an American civil rights attorney, and the first woman to be appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (1964–79). She became legal counsel to the NAACP legal team that filed suit against the St. Louis Board of Education in 1949.
Bishop Walter Dennis: the Suffragen Bishop of New York (1979-88) and well known for his involvement in social issues and civil rights. He was also a mentor to Bishop-elect Deon in seminary.
Saint Paul: an apostle of Jesus who taught the teachings of Christ to the first-century world.
Saint Mary Magdalene: a follower of Jesus and witness to his crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Blessed Virgin Mary: the mother of Jesus.
Along with this beautiful set of red vestments, our new bishop will receive a green set designed by local textile artist Jeff Wunrow, and a white vestment set from Grace Liturgical Vestments in New York that is adorned with the colors of the Barbadian flag. The three sets of vestments are gifts of the Office of Black Ministries, the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the people of the Diocese of Missouri.