March 22, 2005
March 24, 2005

March 23, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Last weekend I attended the Illinois Mennonite Relief Sale here for a story about quilting that I’m working on for The Kansas City Star. The sale, like similar relief sales around the country, raises money for the Mennonite Central Committee, an international charitable organization.

At an early Saturday breakfast, I sat next to a woman wearing a prayer cap, or small head covering. It was brown lace and was pinned into her graying hair. (The photo below shows a prayer cap of a different kind.)

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She and her husband are members of an Apostolic Christian Church congregation in central Illinois. The A.C. denomination is theologically related to the Mennonites and Amish. All are Anabaptist churches.

I asked her how prevalent wearing such prayer caps is in her church, and she said it’s very common outside of worship services and that in worship every single woman wears head coverings.

A Mennonite woman sitting with us (and wearing no head covering) said that her mother used to wear long hair and a head covering but that practice now is practically gone – and the change happened within just one generation.

All this got me to wondering about the religious messages we might be giving to others by the clothes or accessories we wear.

As a Presbyterian, the only time I’m ever conscience of my clothes setting me apart from the general culture is if I stop by a store after church while I’m still wearing a jacket and tie. It’s pretty clear then that I’ve just come from church, especially if I forget to remove my name tag that also carries the name of my church.

But what of Jewish men who wear yarmulkes, nuns who still wear habits (fewer and fewer do), Amish women who wear bonnets and plain dresses, Islamic women who wear the hijab, or head scarf, and Sikh men who wear turbans?

Do we make snap judgments about such people and their faith on the basis of their clothing? Or, in some way, does clothing that bears religious symbols invite us to draw such conclusions?

I’d be interested in your own experiences either wearing or observing others who wear garments that carry faith messages.

See my "About" page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

Comments

Chad Richards

I've just read your piece about garments that carry faith messages. I was reminded of an incident I observed while in Kenya nearly 40 years ago. I was a teacher in Kenya at the time and was spending a brief holiday at a guest house in Nairobi which was frequented by U.S. citizens who were missionaries, teachers, or doctors. A mennonite woman was telling about an experience she had as she encouraged African converts to her faith to adopt a habit of covering their heads with little white bonnets out of respect for their husbands. At the same time, she and others in her church were encouraging women to walk beside their husbands as a show of equality. We all laughed as she related this simple story because we knew that African tradition had the woman walking a slight distance behind her husband to show her respect for him as head of the family. But here were the missionaries, trying to accomplish the same thing through use of the little bonnet while encouraging the woman not to walk behind her husband which was a native custom designed to accomplish the same thing.

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