Brown Shoes

I received the holy mysteries yesterday from someone who celebrated wearing brown shoes.

The shoes in question were beautifully polished and the feet that they were on were of the most reverend quality, (the Most!) but it still bothers me 24 hours later.

Time we rewrote the canon on clergy dress, I think.

Tell me someone do, is my desire for shiny black footwear at the altar of the Lord merely my own sad fetish which I should deal with quietly and with appropriate counselling?


  1. Anonymous says


  2. Andrew says

    I have often thought that sandals (and no socks) should be acceptable footwear in church.

  3. kelvin says

    If it were not for my religious upbringing, I would blame Mother Ruth and the members of the band of servers whom I was exposed to at St Michael and All Saints, Tollcross, during my training. However, they and I know better.

    I see no reason why bare feet should not be acceptable in hot climes.

  4. Sandals (with or without socks, but don’t get me started on how stylish, or not, either is!), steel toecapped boots, trainers, football boots, wellies, bare feet, luminous or bright coloured socks, Homer Simpson slippers – these are all perfectly acceptable in church, except of course if you are officiating, serving or in the choir.

    There is no question and there can be no debate, black shoes (and dark socks) under robes is absolutely required. This is one fetish I share with Kelvin (the only one I’ve identified so far!).

  5. Having received the HMs from a Right Revd whose pink suede desert boots were well visible under his Easter gladrags, I should be immune to offensive footwear.
    But I’m not.
    Not only black, but flat and silent please. They’re known as Cathedral Creepers – or Sanctuary Slippers – in the trade.

  6. Oooh, now that sanctuary slippers have been mentioned, I remember seeing a glorious pair of white sanctuary slippers being worn in Oban. Although their presence did draw my attention away from the Holy Mysteries, it was in a good way.

    Pink suede desert boots on a bishop indeed! This is what the African church is so frightened of you see.

    Sandals with no socks are acceptable without question if you are a Franciscan.

    And wearing a habit.

  7. Clearly a fetish. Just as well you won’t ever be pope.

  8. Elizabeth says

    Does ‘hot climes’ include summer?

    Besides, what is one to do if one doesn’t actually own a pair of black, shiny, flat, silent shoes . . . .

  9. zebadee says

    Kelvin could your sad fetish be a throwback to time spent in your far distant youth in Clydebank and Yorkshire

  10. Dear Reverend Holdsworth,

    My name is Kevin Holdsworth. I live in the United States–in Green River, Wyoming. My wife is active on our local Vestry–St. Marks. I’m wearing brown shoes today. We have two cats. My family originates in Yorkshire. There’s a village there called Holdsworth Hamlet that I visited many years ago. I have checked out your blog from time to time and find these coincidences amusing. Truly, Kevin Holdsworth

  11. asphodeline says

    I completely agree. Black, well-kept shoes for those officiating or singing and quiet – most important. I think shoe polishing should be part of the training!

  12. Moyra says

    Oh dear – I live in an environment where be-sandalled feet at the altar are the norm… and brown shoes come a close second. Something to do with the brown habits, methinks.

  13. Franciscans may be able to do brown, but for all other clergy it MUST be black and well-polished. For those kneeling at the rail this may be the only part of your body they see and it would be very distracting from the Holy Mysteries to see pink desert boots or even gorgeous purple slippers.

    Big problem today for me is that I have broken my wee toe and can’t get any shoes on without excrutiating pain. Guess I’ll have to offer it up. But those purple slippers do look awfully comfy…

  14. A thought following the comment from Fr Ruth. When genuflecting the sole of the shoe is visible. If the upper of the shoe is highly polished black, would this follow that the sole should be black. I have known the instep to be polished.

  15. kelvin says

    Time for one or two comments from me in this debate.

    Firstly, I am glad that I am not alone. It seems to me that there are people with a black shoe in church fetish at least as zealous as my own.

    Asphodeline says that it should be part of the training. In fairness to TISEC, I was sent to a place where I was given instruction in black shoe wear in the sanctuary. And was so afraid of Fr Kevin that I would have dared to sport no other footwear. Fr Kevin has the most respectable clerical footwear in Scotland. In that same church, I was also taught to genuflect in front of a large mirror as though in ballet class.

    Moyra – the Franciscan Exemption very clearly applies to you. Do not fear.

    Chris says that it is as well that I am not going to be a pope. Well, if Paris was worth a mass, the throne of St Peter might be worth a pair of red Prada loafers. It might be my view that had the clerical feet which started this thread been sporting purple Prada loafers I would have had no cause to comment, except for a derisory snort.

    Zebadee rightly suggests that this has something to do with my past. He should know.

    The Hot Climes exemption applies in the Cathedral in Glasgow when the temperature reaches 40 centigrade inside.

  16. Vicky says

    I am beginning to worry about oppression of the brown shoe wearer here. I suspect God might not really mind. Of course such an opinion will lead to total relativism within the Church and the ultimate break down of all Christian liturgical structures, so I can see why folk might be attached to the whole black shoe wearing thing. Is the question actually, not what colour of shoe should the priest be wearing, but what colour of shoe should the recipient be wearing and how clean does their sole (or soul, perhaps) need to be?

  17. kelvin says

    Would it help at all if I state clearly and unambiguously that I will never in my ministry refuse communion to someone on the basis of the colour of their footware?

    I realise that in saying that, people might realise the extent of my liberalism, but then perhaps now is the time for clergy to be more open about these things.

    I think that Stewart’s comments about the colour of shoe soles is leading us in unhelpful directions. Its the uppers that we are concerned about here, uppers I say.

    And before anyone else suggests it, and although it smacks of protestantism, I’m going to rule out pink (or “rose”) shoes in the sanctuary on Rorate Sunday and Gaudate Sunday right here and now.

  18. Reminds me of a parish which I knew where the Parish Priest ( a high anglo-catholic) didn’t have a fixed day-off (though he never failed to take one each week) he had a “brown shoes” day. He wore them for his day of, so people got used to looking at his feet to check, at the Vicarage he used to place a pair of old brown shoes in the study window overlooking the porch , and towards the end of his ministry when answerphones were expensive luxuries he was given one by a wealthy parishioner, and he used to leave a day off message saying that he was wearing brown shoes! I think sandals are an acceptable summer alternative under robes- but please no socks!

  19. ….but the sight of bare toes can be so off-putting!

  20. So …. uniform (black) footwear every time!

  21. Moyra says

    May I say in defence of wearing socks with sandals – it does worry a goodly number of those more elderly (especially female) members of the congregation if you don’t wear socks with sandals in the winter. They are also prone to buying you socks if you persist in wearing sandals without socks. And expect you to wear them.

    I am relieved to have a special excemption and will continue wearing sandals and brown shoes.

    I was once asked not to wear my trainers to church as the sight of the highly coloured soles when I was kneeling at the altar rails was distracting… this was in my pre-brown era, and I was not serving at the time!

  22. When I served in the Diocese of the Arctic I was given a wonderful pair of beaded moosehide slippers by one of the elderly ladies in my congregation. It was the custom there for such slippers to be worn on important occasions. I have had the moosehide replaced twice since then, but still in my present city congregation in Edmonton I wear those slippers in church as often as I can (I left the Arctic fifteen years ago).

    Personally I don’t think God gives a fig what we wear on our feet, whether we’re officiating or not. and if God doesn’t give a fig for it, I’m sure as heck not going to bother about it. But then again, I’m just a low church evangelical, so what do i know????

  23. kelvin says

    Wow. Beaded moosehide slippers – that is most impressive.

    We may need the liturgy committee to draft an Arctic Moosehide Exemption. However, I suspect that will take a couple of years to get through synod.

    However, I don’t think that someone who habitually wears beaded moosehide slippers in church in Edmonton can really claim not to be bothered what goes on someone’s feet.

  24. a) Its all a question of accessorising, sweeties.
    Thou wouldst not, surely to goodness, wear brown (or indeed pink) shoes with a black coat. So why on earth wouldst thou think it proper to wear them with a black cassock??
    b) Cotton Traders mail order have currently on offer pink suede mock Timberlands at half price. Perhaps we could purchase a full set of them to be worn with the Diocesan Polyester Chazzies on ceremonial occasions?
    c) One has, for many many years, found a pair of kid’s black gymshoes, £2.50 from Woolies, to fill the bill perfectly well.

  25. Mysterious stranger says

    For someone who is experiencing extreme difficulty accepting the holy mysteries from anyone it is a delight to read such good humoured exchange.Brown ,black,pink,purple I don’t really care.What is important to me is that the person serving is comfortable and connected and in a suitable place to be serving such a wonderful gift.

  26. Elizabeth Anderson says

    40 degrees INSIDE?

    Alas, I fear that sandals will not have their day unless Global Warming continues it’s alarming trends. And then we’ll probably have more pressing things to worry about . . .

  27. Yes, but I’m in Florida, where one roasts underneath one’s chausible or alb. I will say, most male priests sport shiny-black shoes. I know one who wears sandals and red socks.

    I will wear sandals when serving at the altar, as will most of the women. I’ve seen acolytes in flip-flops or athletic shoes.

    Shocking, I know!

  28. Polished black shoes, even in Central America where it’s easily 32C. They don’t need to see my poor beat-up feet.

  29. Too funny.

    I’ve said for a long time, there’s a fundamentalist and a liberal inside every one of us. We just apply them to different things…!!!

    Kelvin, I’m going to be in the UK later on this year for a sabbatical. I might have to come to Glasgow, just to see those shiny black shoes!

  30. kingsley mckenzie says

    Kelvin I have always made sure my black shoes are polished on the Saturday evening in readiness for Sunday. When visiting an older parishioner shortly after my arrival in a parish, she commented on the shininess of my shoes. To her comment I replied,”Does that mean that your former Vicar did not polish his shoes ? – she was quiet for a moment, then replied, “Yes”. That was one of a number of occasions when she expressed her interest in my shoes. The late Pope John Paul 2 wore brown shoes, even at Papal Masses. Kingsley

  31. agatha says

    Get a life!

  32. paul morrison says

    I always think a red papal slipper looks good!

  33. Brown. The color of leather, or skins. This had to have been the original color of any skin shoe. Why would someone be insulted by nature?

  34. I suppose if the celebrant is on the rainbow-coloured Guatemalan stole school, then choice of footwear is rather beside the point. If, however, the priest in question is wearing Gothic vestments in silk and brocade, to ruin the image with shabby shoes is surely an affront to Mother Church, if not to God.

  35. Ah, a powerful argument in favour of cultural relativism if ever I heard it, Aaron.

  36. A member of the congregation tried to persuade me on Sunday that with the gold and green vestments, brown would have been preferable.

    There is a certain logic in that, though it would not work at all for the (clerically black) coffee hour once the robes were gone.

  37. I knew that post from Aaron was going to cause trouble.

    Kimberly, dear Mother Kimberly do not be deceived. There is no logic to wearing brown with green or with gold. Black goes with everything.

    I fear most terribly that this is all to do with Local Collaborative Ministry. God did not put you in Dunoon to listen to the opinion of All the Baptised on what colour shoes you should wear. She, in all Her wisdom has put you there to teach the true faith and I know that you know what that means.

    Banish the idea that brown shoes in the Sanctuary of the Most High can ever be logical. Banish it now, I say, or bad things will most surely come to pass.

  38. Rosemary says

    Black shoes most certainly do not go with everything. Ugh ugh ugh. One of my daughters believed this (she is no fashionista) and wore black shoes with her gold bridesmaid’s dress. It was simply awful to behold. White, gold, brown all call for cream or brown (or gold, etc) shoes – one must observe tone rules as well as colour ones. Black can only be put with gold or brown IF you observe tone rules, and IF you add black somewhere else. This is not easy to do with vestments (though embroideries can of course incorporate useful colours). You can never stick black on the bottom of gold without causing the beholder a shudder.

  39. Kelvin, don’t worry. I told the colour sensitive Brandane that the only brown shoes I had were strappy sandals, and that they were never getting anywhere near the sanctuary. Though it must be said that she interrupted that sentence with a heartfelt cry of ‘even better’. Clearly an unreliable guide, for all her anecdotal evidence.

  40. p.s. — though it is only fair to say: she’s right about the bride’s maids dress; though I think good taste might have kept the black shoes and ditched the gold dress.

  41. Elizabeth says

    Brown strappy sandals in the sanctuary . . . sounds wonderful! I’m with the rebel out in Argyll!

  42. Rosemary says

    Bridesmaid’s dresses were the choice of the Matron of Honour who was pea green all through the day, poor love, and all of whose sins are to be excused as she is about to make me a grandmother. The bride of that day was the only daughter with real dress sense, and you have to admit she did look striking.

  43. Rosemary says

    And I’m so tired I’ve let a barrow boy’s ‘ into the above, soz, soz, soz.

  44. oh, I see. Gold and green was the theme there too.

  45. Rosemary says


  46. The issue of bridesmaids raises an excellent point. When one is flanked by deacon and subdeacon, suitably vested in dalmatic and tunicle to match the chasuble, they also should be sporting black shoes. Or black sanctuary slippers, if only they were still sold.

  47. Cathedral chorister daughter – ooh that sounds good – favours black sequinned hi-top Converses. As the sequins are black, it is difficult to argue with her, on the grounds that they are black, shiny, silent and cover the whole foot.
    But then it’s always difficult to argue with her.

  48. Yes Aaron. Deacon, Subdeacon, MC, Choristers, Acolytes, Thurifers etc

    Black shoes all.

    Bridesmaids are optional in the Western Rite. No shoe provision is made.

  49. One of your sponsored links currently says “buy Men white dress shoes” !

  50. Which opens the debate, should men wear black shoes with their white dresses?

  51. They should wear their black shoes with their white [cassock] albs. No debate.

  52. When we serve, my brothers Gordon & Neil wear black shoes, and I wear black Duffs Skate shoes with gray laces.
    This is down to my personal dress style though. Even in work we are meant to be smart but I haven’t found a pair of shoes that I find comfy. I have been known to wear white (albeit slightly dirty) converse under my navy cassock and surplice. That’s didn’t go down too well.

  53. A Different Chris says

    Ah – but if black shiny shoes are considered to be OK, what about black sparkly shoes? At my own beloved church, I have often noticed a chorister wearing a most divine pair of black shoes encrusted with sequins under his robes of state – and very stylish he looks too. Is this permitted, or will he be condemned to an eternity of being prodded with pointy sticks for this?

  54. A Different Chris says

    And just re-reading the above – the chorister in question is probably not PamB’s daughter, seeing as he is, well, a he.

  55. There’s been no mention of black suede brogues. Convenient. quite smart, and entirely suitable, I think.

  56. There has been no mention of black suede brogues because most people instintively know that they are unsuitable, I think.

  57. This is all very sad, but I am not in a position to cast any stones, given my obsession with apostrophes.

  58. I hope you realise that there should have been a smiley with that last comment:-)

  59. Vicky Gunn says

    OMG, there’s another ex Wick High student leaving messages for Kelvin…now that is worrying. Personally I have a beautiful pair of black suede chelsea boots…will they do?

  60. Barbara Löfgren says

    I remembered this post when I could clearly see the vicar of Emmanuel Church, Saltburn-by-the-Sea wearing not only brown shoes but brown trousers whilst officiating at my aunt’s funeral last week. He had the same shoes on at the 9am communion service. Mind you, the church’s slogan is “no perfect people allowed” 🙂

  61. Dharma Nicodemus Cuthbert says

    I know of one Bishop, whose choice of footwear are a pair of purple Doc Martins. This matches what he wears to officiate. The first time I met him it was the Docs that stood out. From there I was born again, so shoes can have an influence on people.
    Dharma the shoe fetishist. LOL.


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