Decoding the Color Scheme
Within the life of the church, color has long been used to give a visual indicator of what is happening in the life of the church. Whether is it a marking of the rhythm and movement of the liturgical season, or the noting of a special celebration within the life of the church, the colors that we use in worship, whether it is in the cloths covering the tables or the stoles that the Pastor and the choir wears, have deep meaning.
Please note that the following descriptions are based off of Presbyterian tradition and the working tradition of Southern Heights Presbyterian Church. We recognize that there is a variety of Christian practice and understandings of all things, including liturgical colors.
Purple = Preparation
Purple is the color that is used during our seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. During both of these seasons (the four Sundays before Christmas and the 40 Days before Easter, respectively), we are to dedicate ourselves for the preparation of our hearts and minds for welcoming Christ.
Purple is also the traditional color of royalty, and so some give nod to this as a reason why we use purple during these seasons.
In some tradition, the color Blue is used interchangeably with purple during the season of Advent.
Red = Spirit
The color red can, traditionally, only be found on one Sunday during the liturgical year: Pentecost, where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church as tongues of fire.
Since the color has so closely come to be associated with the Holy Spirit, red vestments are also appropriate for the celebration of the sacrament of baptism.
White = Holiness
We use white any time we are celebrating days that emphasize the divinity of Christ: Christmas, Easter, Baptism of the Lord, Christ the King, and so on. For the most part, if you find white paraments in the sanctuary, you are worshiping on a day that has great significance to our understanding of Jesus as God.
Also, since white has come to symbolize holiness, it is also often used for the celebration of both sacraments (baptism and communion).
You will also often see a pastor wear a white stole when officiating a wedding. Although there is no theological or liturgical reason, some pastors choose to do so as the colors white and black are so often associated with weddings. However, any color of stole is deemed appropriate based on the season.
Green = Presence
During the majority of the church year, which is commonly called "ordinary time", the color that you will find is green. Because the color green is so often associated with life, the use of green during the seasons and the times when there is "nothing special" going on in the life of the church (no big festivals or holidays) reminds us that God is present among us, breathing life into us and into our church.