Back in May of 2016, after hearing about the #WearOrange movement, which supports reasonable gun sales and gun ownership regulation, I got the idea to wear an orange stole at worship as a witness against gun violence. The idea caught on and spread. Recently, my friend Rosalind Hughes, who made my orange stole and a hundred others, asked me to sum up what I thought might achieved by the importing the #WearOrange movement into the liturgy of the church. This is what I wrote for her:

Several years ago, while serving in a parish in Kansas with a limited budget and little money for more than a few stoles, I made several full sets of vestments and, at that time, did some research on liturgical colors. One of the things I learned was that although orange is not now considered one of the standard colors of the liturgical spectrum, it was once considered an alternative to green for the Sundays of “ordinary time.” I also learned that it is an accepted color for vestments in the Russian Orthodox Church where, for some reason, it is considered appropriate to the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul.

In that research, I also learned that amongst those who assign symbolic or allegorical meaning to colors, orange is considered the color of warning and prophecy. Perhaps that is why the Russians associate it with two “pillar” saints of the church.

In any event, I never made any orange vestments, but the idea of doing so never quite left me.

Fast forward to 2016 and my growing distress about mass shooting events and my interest in witnessing against gun violence and in favor of reasonable regulation of gun ownership. I was invited to take part in a gun regulation forum and learned about Hadiya Pendleton and the #WearOrange movement. “What a wonderful idea,” I thought and set about looking for an orange shirt to wear (I ended up buying a hunter’s t-shirt from Walmart). I also was reminded of my early contemplation of making a set of vestments in orange, the color of warning and prophecy. What a great way that would be to extend the witness of Wear Orange Day (June 2) into and from the church on the next Sunday!

If I had had access to a functioning sewing machine, I would probably just have made an orange stole for myself, worn it on that Sunday, gotten a few remarks from parishioners, and nothing more would have come of it. But our sewing machine had been damaged when we relocated from Kansas to Ohio and never repaired, so instead of making a stole myself, I made mention of the idea on Facebook. My friend and colleague, Rosalind Hughes, saw my comment and graciously offered to do what I could not do, and from there things took off as I could never have imagined.

I had simply intended to participate in #WearOrange movement in a liturgical way as a part of my Christian witness to peace and justice. Even when the assigned lessons and prayers of day (“the propers”) might not speak directly to the political issue of gun control or mass violence, the silent and symbolic witness of the color could do so. My hope was simply to raise the awareness and consciousness of my congregation. I never thought about or anticipated starting an “orange stole movement” amongst the clergy of the church. But that is what happened.

Rosalind and other makers of vestments began offering orange stoles to any who were interested in making a similar witness. Nearly all of our colleagues in the Diocese of Ohio asked for an orange stole and a picture of a group of us wearing them at our 2016 clergy conference was published nationally. Ordained ministers of other traditions began wearing orange stoles. The bishops of the Episcopal Church began wearing them at public events; recently, I saw a picture of the Bishop of Washington wearing an orange stole in the halls of Congress! I was blown away.

In three decades of ordained ministry, I’ve preached thousands of sermons, prayed more prayers than I could number, sat at numerous kitchen tables and by too many bedsides, and attended more meetings than I care to remember. The orange stole as a symbol of standing against gun violence and in favor of reasonable gun sale and ownership regulation, simply a little idea for a gesture of witness in my local congregation, seems to have had more far reaching effect than anything else. I have commented that it may just have been the best “church idea” I ever had.

There’s an old church camp song that reminds us, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” I guess the orange stole was my “spark” to help light up the church’s prophetic witness against gun violence.