I have never been in a church where women covered their heads. My parents’ Lutheran (LCMS) church (which they have joined since I left home) does have one member, a retired black lady, who wears a hat to church. And shortly after I started covering, I met a pastor’s wife at a conference who wore a mantilla during the Divine Service that concluded the event. Other than that, I have never personally met any other head-covering Lutheran women (though I know there are some out there).
But it’s something I had always been drawn to. I am a lover of tradition and symbolism, especially when these things confess God’s beautiful and mysterious Truth, and you can’t get much more traditional and symbolic than head-covering. My first awareness of it actually being practiced today came when my mother went on a short-term mission trip with some Evangelicals to an Eastern European country when I was in high school. She told me that she had had to wear a bandana in church.
I’m not sure when I first read or took note of the 1 Corinthians passage, but it always nagged at me. Growing up in the ELCA, which is a liberal denomination with vestigial Lutheran trappings, I was surrounded by women pastors and, increasingly, those who wanted to ordain and “marry” practicing homosexuals. In fact, I even wanted to be a pastor myself and was preparing to take that career path my first year and a half of college. However, I was vexed by the homosexual agenda, which was pushed through in 2009, and I ultimately ended up joining the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, or LCMS, a confessional church body which does not ordain women. During that time of discernment, I lost a great deal of sleep and peace wrestling over how I could ignore or explain away the passages forbidding women to function as pastors, yet still hold the hard line against homosexual practice. When I was honest with myself, I recognized the hypocrisy of my selective application of Scripture–and others on either side (i.e., the liberal, pro-homosexual side and the conservative, anti-women’s ordination side) were quick to point it out as well. Inevitably, the head-covering passage always came up as an example of something that is no longer practiced today; it represented a certain thing in ancient culture, the argument went, but going to church bareheaded no longer causes scandal today, so likewise, the practice of forbidding women pastors (or homosexual ones) should be done away with as well.*
Though I was always interested to read what study Bibles had to say on the matter, I never studied the issue seriously, but every time I read through 1 Corinthians, I wasn’t sure what I should make of this passage. Then, finally, last summer, in the midst of a great personal crisis, I was reading through 1 Corinthians in the daily lectionary, and the matter flared up for me again. It was about this same time that I was looking into the subject of modest dress (another topic for another post). I had also within the past year heard of two other instances of friends of friends wearing a headcovering, and each of those times, I had longed to do the same–if only it weren’t so culturally weird.
I finally decided to try it, though. I began wearing a bandana or the hood of a jacket to cover my head when I read the Bible or prayed at home. One weekend I went hiking out of state with my family, and we went to a church nearby. I used the excuse of having crazy, unwashed hair to wear a bandana to church, just to sort of test-drive the idea. I didn’t hate it. Later that month, I wore a bandana to a Wednesday evening prayer service, where the number of attendees could be counted on one hand. I felt extremely self-conscious, but I got through it. The next Sunday I was out of town again, but the Sunday after that, I wore a bandana to Sunday morning Divine Service. (That I was all I could afford, as they were $1 at Walmart, and there were many colors to choose from with pretty, feminine flowers and paisley, so I was able to choose something that matched my outfit and looked, I thought, halfway decent.)
Over the following months, I continued to experiment with what I wore and when. I covered more than just in church and prayer, but less than full time. Winter made it easier to get away with covering my head, and I wore a knitted hat as often as I could; in church, I started wearing scarves instead of bandanas. However, I often felt ugly, awkward, and super-weird, and I finally resolved that if I was going to continue to do this, my covering had to look nice (and preferably not too Muslim). So I ordered some snoods and worked on different ways to tie a headscarf, thanks to the tutelage of YouTube. Keeping the covering on was also an issue; many times my headscarf would fall down, often at inopportune moments. I am still experimenting and working out some kinks, but wearing a velvet headband has gone a long way toward resolving the slippage problem.
Within the last month or so, I have started covering pretty much full time, even if it’s just with a wide headband (which I don’t prefer, but in some situations it’s all I can make myself wear). I don’t know if I’ll continue full-time covering indefinitely, but I want to try it long enough to make a well-grounded decision. At a minimum, I want to always have a potential covering on my person (e.g., a scarf around my neck or a hood on a jacket), even if it’s not on my head. I am still self-conscious, but I’m gaining confidence as I continue to establish my reasons for covering and as I learn ways to do it so that it looks nice and stays put.
So that, in brief, is how my first nine months or so of head-covering have gone. I’m excited to continue sharing the journey as it unfolds.
*Because I wish to avoid theological debate on this blog, I will simply ask readers to look elsewhere for well-argued responses to the “cultural” position on head-covering; I assure you, they’re not hard to find.