Monday, April 23, 2018

ABC Post 23--Everything You've Wondered About That Funny Thing On My Head

For today's post, I'd like to address the most common questions I've been asked about head coverings. 

1. Would you be offended if I asked a few questions?

No. Not at all. As long as you are considerate of the hungry baby in this shopping cart, and as long as you don't reference the Amish Mafia tv show.

2. What is that thing on your head?

It is a head covering and a religious symbol. We are Christians who are part of the Mennonite denomination. We believe in obeying the Bible, and this practice is based on verses in First Corinthians 11:3-16—primarily verse 5.
". . .every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head."

So the custom is two-fold—having long hair and wearing something on it.

Here's the entire passage from the NIV Bible--

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

3. Do you wear it all the time?

The idea is to be ready for prayer and prophecy (speaking truth about God) at any time. Generally, though, we put it on when we get dressed for the day and take it off when we get ready for bed.

I know women who wear a scarf at night, since we all tend to pray a lot when we can't sleep.  But that's up to the individual.

4. You wear a black thing and I see women with white caps. How does that work?

Every congregation decides what their members should wear. The traditional Amish and Mennonite head covering has been a white cap, a holdover from European tradition. When a Mennonite talks about a "covering," they're usually referencing a white cap. In Amish novels, they call it a "kapp," pronounced "cop."

Our congregation in Brownsville chose to have more options for head coverings, so I wear a black piece of fabric called a veil.  Sometimes my daughters wear different kinds of scarves.

In the Amish and Mennonite world, head coverings are symbolic not only of honoring Christ, as in the Bible passage, but also of where a woman belongs in the vast Anabaptist spectrum. How big is her covering? Is it a cap or a veil? Does it have strings? These all tell a story.

Lots of variety here, but we are all eating together.

Women wearing veils.
5. When does a girl or woman start wearing one? Did you give your daughters the option of wearing it or not?

I was an Amish child, so I wore a kapp the first time I went to church, at six weeks old, and it was never really an option for me until I was an adult and deciding if I wanted to leave the church or stay. 
I married a Mennonite man, and we have been part of a Mennonite church ever since.

The Mennonite custom is to begin wearing a covering when you come to faith in Jesus for your salvation or, if not then, then for sure when you get baptized.
Young men and women at our house. Some of the girls like lacy black veils that fit snugly on the back of the head.
Trusting in Jesus, baptism, covering, and becoming a church member are all decisions that a young person makes for themselves, but they're kind of a package deal. We would discuss these things with our daughters but tried hard not to pressure them.

In our congregation, covering is required for women members, so they didn't have the option of being a member but not covering. 
Our daughter Amy likes to wear a black scarf tied bandana-style.
6. I don't think that passage is meant for the church today. Do you still consider me a Christian?

There's quite a bit of variety among Mennonites on how we answer that question. I had a roommate once who felt that once a person came to know Jesus, they should figure out within two years that they need to cover, or they're not really saved.

Different congregations have different expectations for how you need to look in order for your husband to be invited to speak.

Personally, I appreciate Elisabeth Elliot's books even though she never wore a head covering, and I have family and friends who are wonderful Christians but don't follow this practice.

7. So why bother? 

If you feel like God is asking you to do something, you should do it. Sometimes it's the right thing for the place and time and people he's called you work with and minister to. Sometimes he will ask you to do things that he doesn't seem to ask of anyone else around you. That is His business. You will be blessed if you obey.

8. So you've been blessed?


For example, I think it gives me credibility. I write for a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon—one of the most unchurched cities in the country. I often write about my faith. I've had other Christians ask me how I get by with this, and the only answer that I can come up with is that non-Christians in Oregon tend to be skeptical of anyone claiming to be Christian, but wearing distinctive clothes and a veil somehow convinces people of my authenticity.

In 18 years of writing about family and church and faith, and quoting Bible verses, I've never been told that I should tone down the religious content.

9. Can I come visit your church? Do I need to wear a cap?
Yes, you are welcome to visit. No, you don't need to cover. If you are a woman and want to wear a hat or scarf, out of respect for our customs, we will appreciate it. And we like it when guys remove their hats.

10. In studying the Bible, I think I should cover my head. My church and husband are opposed to this. What should I do?

You have to be cautious, because a covering is symbolic of being under authority. So it doesn't really make sense to go against your church and husband's wishes in wearing one.

My advice would be to discuss it with them, find out their concerns, and then do your best to find a solution you can all work with. For example, you might wear a hat or scarf to church services, and cover your hair when you have your private worship times at home.

11. I used to wear a chapel veil when I went to a Catholic high school. Is this the same idea?

Yes. Women have worn hats and scarves and veils for worship services for hundreds of years, and it's only recently that the practice has died out in Christian churches. This is also why men always removed hats indoors, in restaurants and such, and women didn't. And it's why, when people still did invocations at graduations, the guys took off their mortarboards and the girls didn't.

12. Don't you get tired of the rules? What would happen if you suddenly decided to wear your hair down and not wear a veil? Would you get in trouble?

My hair and veil are two small pieces of a very large package that includes our investment in church, Paul's role as a pastor and mine as his wife, how we understand the Bible, our role in the community, family traditions, cultural norms and expectations, and much more, all of which we chose to be part of, being adults of sound mind.

I am very unlikely to suddenly decide one day, willy-nilly, to go off to town with my hair cascading down my back, hairpins clattering in all directions, like the girls in Amish novels do. That is just weird.

Let's say you're a nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital. What are the chances you'll suddenly decide to throw off the rules and come to work in ICU smoking a cigarette and wearing a Les Schwab Tire Center uniform?

That would just be weird.

13. You apparently believe in your husband's "authority." Isn't that oppressive?

We believe that Paul and I are equal in value before God but have different roles and responsibilities. I feel like my husband and our church have made sure that I have a voice and am treated like an "heir together of the grace of Christ."

So I don't feel oppressed.

Not all women are as fortunate, but in general I think Mennonite women are less oppressed than a lot of "worldly" women.

Mennonite women don't have to fit an impossible body model to be considered beautiful. Being a wife and mom is considered an honorable and admirable occupation. They are encouraged to be creative. If they like having babies, it's fine if they have a lot. Mennonite men
for the most part get married, stay married, are faithful, and are expected to support their wives and families well. 

More types of head coverings.
14. Is it ok if I ask you more questions in the comments?



  1. Very interesting post! Would you be willing to write more about Mennonite dress in general? I have noticed that Amish clothing is very distinctive, but the Mennonites have more variety as far as color and patterns. Frequently I'll see groups of Mennonite women and it looks like they all used the same dress pattern, why is that? I can't figure out what the underlying rule is for their dresses is, other than that they are modest. You mentioned that dressing distinctively gives you authority and authenticity, yet Mennonite men seem to wear off-the-rack clothing that makes them indistinguishable from the general population, other than that they wear more button-downs than t-shirts. Why do Mennonite women so frequently sew their own clothing?
    Thank you for tolerating my nosey questions.

    1. Maybe this should be a future post...Dress styles are like head covering styles where there's a few principles, a lot of tradition, and parameters decided on by the congregation. The Amish and many conservative Mennonites require a "cape" dress for the ladies, which is a simple dress with an extra piece over the front and back of the bodice. I've often wondered why men can buy off the rack and women can't. Probably because you can buy a man's shirt and pants that are much like the traditional garments, but the same is not true for dresses.

  2. Thank Dorcas for this post. I really enjoyed reading it. Our church has just started going through 1 Corinthians and everytime a church does that I dread as we get closer to chapter 11. I think I've shared here before, I attend a church doesn't believe in covering so it's very difficult to hear from the pulpit that covering is not for today.

    I've left church services nearly in tears over hearing that so I'm not too thrilled
    to possibly hearing it again. I expect our pastor will get to chapter 11 by summer time. If you could please be in prayer for me over this, I would surely appreciate it. Thank you.

    1. Hello Regina. Many are not clear about what the covering is, mostly because of bad teaching coming from books outside of the bible, well meaning Im sure, but still just bad teaching. Much is read into that section, but not much is taken for just what it says. Also many write the whole thing off with the verse that says, if it is gonna cause continsion then we have no such custom.(I'm just paraphrasing, but you know the verse). They miss the fact that the whole letter was written because of continsion. The lack of love one for another and the lack of love toward Christ was their main source for all this continuation and disobedience of the things that had been set forth as ordinances and things to follow.
      Paul's point to them when he said if it was gonna be a thing of continuation then we have no such custom, was a way to sick them to bring them back to their senses. It's kinda like saying something in such a way that you want them to do, but you tell them to just forget it. You don't really want them to not do it, but you want them to do it. Paul wanted them to follow the things he has set forth, but if it's not gonna be done in love them they weren't gonna do anything in love and they may as well just forget the whole thing.

    2. Regina--that sounds hard. I wish your church would at least leave the option open, and bless you if that's what you choose to do.

  3. This is my favorite line: "Not all women are as fortunate, but in general I think Mennonite women are less oppressed than a lot of "worldly" women." I applaud this, and I believe women should and do make that choice for themselves. We ought to think about this when we (as a nation) make judgments about how women are treated in Muslim countries. When and if they feel the need to be "liberated," they will take action themselves. No one needs to "save" them from their culture.

  4. Good to be reminded that we chose to be part of this, being adults of sound mind! This was a very frank explanation & beautifully done!

  5. I enjoyed your article. I am one of the few people who read 1 Corinthians 11 and thru the course of time, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, began wearing a covering when I didn't personally know anyone else who did. (I was familiar with the Amish and Mennonites) Once again fast forward a few years and God brought me into the conservative Mennonite church. Another thing I like about wearing a covering that wasn't mentioned in this article is that it is a constant reminder to me of whose I am and what I represent.

  6. Thanks - I have been really curious about this ever since I started reading your blog.

    As an Anglican (specifically Church of England) I cover my head in Church and to pray: it's very eccentric in the Anglican Communion, though I have met others who do it. I find it helps me to make that sort of gesture of reverence when praying, and I feel frustrated with the way people in our Church push women into men's traditional roles in a manner that sometimes has the implication that we aren't really worth much as women. Doing something different from men for worship witnesses discreetly against that. Also, given how much has changed liturgically, and how far culturally we've come from the Bible, I also find it delightful to be doing something specific that at least some of the first generation of Christians were doing. It is a connection with Christian women through all the ages. I didn't wear it all the time as a laywoman, though (I'm sort of in probation as a solitary religious, and I do wear it all the time now, at my own discretion). The passage is rather obscure, and it makes it hard to understand whether it should be interpreted to mean "in case you pray" or when you formally and intentionally pray. It seems to me that the latter would be reasonable? Though of course, the decisions and what you have to think about are very different when it is down to your personal preference rather than part of a community package.

    It depends a lot on context what works, but if anyone is looking for a discreet compromise in a situation where it is not customary to cover, I have used one I'd like to share in case anyone finds it of use. I sang in robed choirs a lot, where my customary scarf would have been inappropriate, and then I always used to put my hair up and wear a full head hairnet that matched my hair. (A bit like this:,_Schwarza,_finnische_Obersch%C3%BClerinnen.jpg, but certainly in England you can get very light-weight and almost invisible ones).

    I have the impression that often, when submission is discussed, it is substantially misunderstood: i.e. people take it to mean that the husband should be domineering and the wife a doormat. Christianity never advocates that type of authority as far as I know (the rulers of the gentiles etc.).

    I'd second the question about Mennonite dress in general. Also, what is the acceptable range of headcoverings in your congregation? And I'm always a bit surprised by how far back on the head you wear them: how much of the hair and the head do you like to cover? I've always been surprised by how far back on your heads you wear the covering - it surprises me it stays on. Is it a community decision that you should all wear your hair up under it, and if so is there a rationale to that?

  7. One observation about #3. What is "generally" practiced varies depending on your specific Mennonite setting. Whether to wear a covering or veil at night is left to the individual in my church as well. But I would say that the majority of women I know probably do wear one at night. -CS

  8. I'm sorry if this is a dumb question, but do the women that wear their hair up ever suffer from headaches because their hair is so long and thick? If so, how do they handle that? Plus, does anyone ever suffer from thinning and balding hair because they wear it up every day for years? I understand the reason you wear your hair up and have a covering, I was just wondering if there are ever complications like that from it?

    1. Yes we definitely get headaches. I do not know about balding, but my hair breaks from pinning my veil on.

    2. As Anonymous said, both things are potential issues. I have one friend who wears her hair down a lot of the time because she gets headaches. I know a few women with hair to the floor and honestly I don't see how they manage. And I used to anchor my bun with a barrette, but after 20 years I was going bald there, so I changed how i put up my hair and it seems to be fine.

    3. I have wondered if one reason some women get headaches is because of not being careful enough how they put in their hairpins. If a hairpin is pulling or hurting just a little when you put it in, it can become a major pain later in the day. But if you make sure they are all comfortable when you comb your hair (likely you don't feel them), they will usually remain comfortable through the day. I'm not saying this is the only reason some get headaches, but I wonder if it is one factor.

  9. Yes, I've experienced both, not just a little but a lot. It's regarded by some as part of the submission and suffering-for-Christ package. ML