Back in 1966, both Charlene and I wore prayer coverings to Warwick High School. Here’s a picture from our senior yearbook showing both of us in relation to our classmates — enjoying the fun, but from a distance. Charlene is sitting closest to the windows. I am holding a paper.
Charlene was then, and still is, a member of the Church of the Brethren, Northeast Atlantic District. Today, she still wears her hair up under a prayer covering. She was most helpful to me in locating other friends from our growing up years, Judy, and Carol, both of whom are mentioned in Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World
When asked why she wears a covering, Charlene cited many of the same reasons mentioned by Kathy and of the Old Order Mennonites. She begins with the biblical command in I Corinthians 11. Then she focuses on the opportunity to be a witness:
“I was in a direct sales business for 29 years and there were a few times my veiling intimidated some people, but the majority of times it increased their faith in me. Christian women, especially, were happy to discuss their faith and relationship with the Lord with me.”
“I don’t think I worry much about showing uniformity with others, and most often I don’t have a meek and quiet spirit. I don’t wear a “plain” dress. I go to a regular store and purchase clothing that I like. . . . modest clothing compared to what many others wear. . . . That’s a separate decision from the head covering.”
Some of Charlene’s friends have abandoned the covering. Others never wore it. Charlene doesn’t judge either group:
I have always liked being with people and enjoyed meeting new people. Most of them just accepted me as I am and I wanted to do the same with them . . . . The prayer covering does NOT save any of us and I would never presume that it does. . . . I really dislike hearing someone say ‘My church makes us wear them.’ Without a personal conviction to wear a head veiling I really don’t see that it can be any kind of a witness to anyone.”
When you meet Charlene, you can tell that she is very comfortable in her own skin, with her own choices, and with faith and family that show not only her beliefs but her very identity:
“My prayer covering has been an important part of my life for over 50 years.”
You may remember Eileen. She’s the young poet whose book on silence I featured in a previous post.
Eileen, like Kathy Wenger, was in the audience when the book launch for BLUSH was held at Lititz Mennonite Church, Lititz, Pennsylvania.
I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and part of the Conservative branch of Friends. I attend Keystone Friends Meeting.
My reasons for wearing a covering of some kind are rather complicated. I started to wear something on my head in 2005, not because of Biblical reasons, but rather because I felt led by God to wear some kind of covering. My wearing it is a reminder of my submission to God, not of submission to men.
Of course, wearing it does remind me to be aware of the example I set for others, and it does remind me to think about God. My role is to be obedient to God. Certainly, my headgear does open conversations about faith in the larger culture–but I wear it out of a sense of leading.
I think another reason I wear it is cultural. Other women around me wear a covering, and so I feel, yes, some sense of wanting a consistent witness with other women, but it also feels culturally comfortable for me to do this. [Note: Some Muslim women cover their heads for cultural reasons, and not for religious ones, as well.]
Another reason is purely personal. My hair is important to me, and I feel like I need to protect it somehow. It’s private.
One time someone asked me about why I wear a covering and simple clothes, and I explained that my reasons were rather intellectual, feminist, and individualistic, so perhaps I didn’t do it for the right reasons. She said, “Yes, but when you’re in a setting that is intellectual, feminist, and individualist [I was in grad school at the time], what stands out about you is your simplicity.”So in the end, her comment brought me back to articulating my hope to live in such a way that keeps me focused and responsive to God’s presence and desire. Modesty and simplicity help with this.
Friends (Quakers) have always allowed women to speak during meeting, and I don’t think the book of discipline for my yearly meeting says anything about a head covering at all. I can’t even recall it being much of an issue in historical documents I have read. I think Quaker women in the past may have covered their heads out of modesty, perhaps, but also out of a desire to be separated from the world (and certain kinds of dress were encouraged by the meeting/congregation).
But women who preached during meeting still had to be submitted to God–to speak only what God would want–just the same as the men speaking during meeting. My meeting and yearly meeting do not see head coverings or plain/simple dress as a requirement; the current position is that it is a personal choice, between an individual and God. (This was not always the case, historically.)
I believe Friends would reject the God-man-woman hierarchy, for the most part, and would not cite 1 Corinthians 11 as a reason to wear a head covering. In the end, at least with the Friends I’ve been in contact with more recently, it comes down to the individual woman and God.
I know this is not the classically Anabaptist way of thinking of things. Fortunately, I belong to a congregation and denomination that allows this kind of individual understanding, and, on good days, understands that obedience will not look the same for everyone.
Finally, I wear a head covering because I feel a sense of leading to. I don’t believe every woman will feel led to, and that’s okay. I respect women who choose to cover their heads and/or wear plain or simple clothes, and I respect women who don’t. What is important for me is being faithful to what I feel God calling me to. I am someone who feels called to writing as public ministry–that is to say, I feel called to write and publish poems and other writing and even speak sometimes–and somehow being reminded, through a head covering, of who I belong to and whose authority I am under frees me to write and speak. I often feel bolder and more confident, somehow.