SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — A letter made public on Facebook from a priest at Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS) requested that one of his parishioners refrain from wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to Mass.
In the letter written by Rev. Brian Needles, Pastor at OLS, he says that he has received several complaints about the t-shirt that his parishioner wore on two occasions. While Father Brian did state that he believed the ‘lives of black people matter’ he also said that the agenda of the Black Lives Matter organization is “very controversial, to say the least.”
“I therefore respectfully request that you, in a spirit of good will, refrain from wearing that t-shirt or any other t-shirt with an overtly political slogan on it when lectoring,” wrote Father Brian. “I prefer that any male lector wear a collared shirt and not a t-shirt, with or without a political slogan on it. If you have a concern with that, then I would simply ask that you not come forward to lector.”
A lector is a member of the congregation who is assigned to read a portion of Biblical text during Mass. He continued that the intention of his letter was not to pass judgement on the parishioner or his moral and political beliefs. Instead, he asks that the parishioner be respectful of the beliefs of other members of the congregation and not distract from the reading of the scriptures.
The letter was first published on the Facebook page for the SOMA Black Parents Workshop. The group's founder, Walter Fields, likened Father Brian’s letter to the white pastors and moderates that Martin Luther King Jr. critiqued in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Father Brian is currently away from the church for the first week of August. The Rev. Richard Pfannenstiel, Parochial Vicar at OLS, declined to comment on the letter, which he said he was not privy to.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Newark affirmed the right of any parishioner to wear clothing that promotes a cause or movement. However, the Archdiocese maintained Father Brian’s point that lectors are responsible for following the archdiocesan dress code. According to the statement the dress code prohibits t-shirts and any clothing that distracts from the word of God by drawing attention to the individual.
In response to this incident the Archdiocese of Newark says it will be asking pastors to reiterate the dress code and be prepared to answer questions and concerns to ensure that all are comfortable with the policy and its purpose.