Kathy Wenger and her mother at the book launch

Kathy Wenger's sister and mother at the BLUSH book launch

When BLUSH launched at Lititz Mennonite Church September 19, 2013, I, like any new author, was excited.

But I was also a little worried, as any memoir writer with extended family in the room will be!

My family’s response filled my heart with joy that night. I will always be grateful for their amazing support.

But I still felt a few other niggling questions. I wondered how two friends, Kathy and Eileen, sitting in the audience might react to Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Both of them wear head coverings.

My memoir is all about wanting choices and taking the choice, eventually, not to wear a prayer covering.

I knew they each had taken the opposite path. I hoped that my story would not cause them pain or separate us from each other.

As it turned out, my worry was displaced. They know who they are, what they have chosen, and neither has a desire to dictate to others. Both have many friends who made different choices.

In my last post I described stories of women who left the practice of plain dress, including the head covering. I promised to offer this space also as a forum for other perspectives. To prepare, I read articles by scholars Beth Graybill and Donald Kraybill.

Beth Graybil’s chapter in the book Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History (Johns Hopkins University Press 2002), based on interviews with Eastern Conference Mennonite women, lists reasons for wearing the covering and functions it serves in women’s lives. I summarized them below and then shared them with Kathy and Eileen:

  • to show nonconformity to the world
  • to follow the biblical command in I Corinthians 11: 5 to pray with her head covered
  • to witness to the world — to open conversations about faith
  • to show submission and to accept the divine order of God>man>woman
  • to show uniformity in having a consistent witness with other women
  • to remind oneself to have a meek and quiet spirit
  • to make a statement against the fashion industry (in combination with plain dress)
  • to protect oneself against sexual temptations or attacks
  • to increase virtuous behavior. “We want people to look at us and think of God.”
  • to be in contact with a sacred symbol that isn’t sold in stores
  • to provide emotional security of knowing one’s role in the community as wife, mother, caregiver, and one who enjoys working hard to serve others

 Kathy’s Story

Kathy Wenger, is the co-owner and hostess of the Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast, the colonial-era farmhouse I grew up in. I interviewed her briefly about her mission in hospitality here.

The Home Place Farmhouse -- Forgotten Seasons

The Home Place Farmhouse -- Now Forgotten Seasons

Last week I asked Kathy to respond to some questions specifically about the prayer covering she puts on every day.

Greetings to you from PA.  I have been thinking about your questions this evening and no, I do not find them intrusive.  I will be glad to respond, but am not sure how to condense all that in an e-mail.  I guess we need a few hours sometime of a good discussion!  I realize there are many things along the way in my spiritual journey that have impacted how I view wearing a headship veiling today.  At times I have struggled with it, but can’t say I felt the “blush” that you described in your memoir.  I will answer your first question tonight and then finish tomorrow after thinking about how to word my response to the statements that Beth Graybill received in her interviews.

We are members at Lime Rock Mennonite Church west of Lititz.  It is not far from the Erb Mennonite Church.  Our congregation is part of the Weaverland Conference which is still considered an Old Order Mennonite Church.  Growing up in Lancaster County, you probably heard of the “Black Bumper” or Horning Mennonite. That is the same church we go to — although not many have the black bumpers anymore.

 Which statement (above) means the most to me personally?  The one of being in submission to God’s divine order of God > man> and woman. That is because that is the one where I have struggled the most but also the one where God has revealed Himself so clearly to me. Too many times I felt women wore coverings because they were expected to or forced to. Women should feel honored and protected, respected and loved by the men in their lives for them to rest in the role they are in.  Sadly, that is not always so.

I was single until I was 37 years old and let some of that fear bind me. “Would I be happy if I got married?” ” How would my husband treat me?” ” Could I be in my place as a wife and yet still feel alive as a woman and that I had a voice?”  Thankfully, I can say that God has worked powerfully in our lives and I am blessed with a wonderful husband and can rest in that divine order.

 What reasons [above] do I reject?  I don’t like the wording “to increase virtuous behavior” or “to remind oneself to have meek and quiet spirit” or “to make a statemant against the fashion industry.”  All that feels draining to me. It feels performance- based. It feels like there is so much I need to “do” to be a godly woman.  Sometimes Proverbs 31 has felt that way to me.  I like a quote I once read ” Before you can be a Proverbs 31 woman, you need to be Psalms 1 woman.”  Read it and place “she” where there is the word “he”. [“She shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.”]

I like to think of my dress corresponding with what is coming from my heart. Does my face show that I am at peace? Am I warm and welcoming to anyone I meet? Does who I am as a person show that I know the Lord?  Women can wear a covering and a cape dress, but have a hard face and a bitter spirit.

 I know that I can be a godly woman and live for the Lord without wearing a covering. But God chose my family, my home, and the culture and placed me here “for such a time as this.”  As I live my life for God as an adult, I choose to follow the  scriptural teaching of wearing a head covering.  But even more than my dress, I want to live out what God calls me to be as a woman fully alive for Him in my femininity.

Being separated by dress is a visible symbol, but truly being transformed by the work of God and his Son Jesus calls me to show Himself to others.

     Blessings to you,
                        Kathy

I think you can see why I respect Kathy. And I think you can see on her face the Spirit she serves. I’d love to know what you felt as you read her words.

Do you have any other questions to ask her? I’m sure she will respond to you in the same thoughtful, kind, and open way she answered my questions. She also welcomes guests at Forgotten Seasons to ask questions about any of the Old Order practices she and her husband Jay honor and adhere to.

Shirley Showalter

27 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan on February 26, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I feel it a privilege to have read Kathy’s well-penned feelings. Clearly, a heart-based woman.

    I particularly resonated with, “…All that feels draining to me. It feels performance- based. It feels like there is so much I need to ”do” to be a godly woman.”

    In the ongoing balancing act of DOing and BEing, even though I’m a very active person, I relish BEing.

    • shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Yes, Laurie. I think you would find Kathy a kindred spirit, a be-er as well as a do-er. It’s hard to keep the balance. I think Kathy’s covering helps to remind her of the be-ing dimension of her faith. You have a gift for pulling out the words that resonate. Which makes you a resonator for others. Thank you!

  2. Marian Beaman on February 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Shirley, I will share this on my Facebook page. Kathy looks, sounds, and acts like a dear heart.

    • shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Thank you, Marian. I hope your readers enjoy getting to know Kathy. I appreciate your generosity in sharing.

  3. Elfrieda Schroeder on February 26, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Is there anything the husband wears to show his love, respect and submission to God and to his wife?

    My husband asked me this question and I’m passing it on.

    • shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

      That’s interesting, Elfrieda. I will invite Kathy to join the conversation. Her husband Jay is a real partner and together they live their faith every day. Not sure how he would describe his visible symbols. But thanks for the question.

  4. Warm Ginger on February 26, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    These posts have been fascinating reading for me Shirley. Thank you so much as I know head-covering can be such a loaded topic! I love Kathy’s response and feel many parallels between her thoughts as a Mennonite and my own as a secular feminist.

    • shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for bringing us the view from Qatar, Warm Ginger. The world has changed since the days when veiled women of one culture barely knew about those in other cultures. And secular and religious women sometimes have more in common than either of them knows.

      It’s good to see your face again. I need to go check out what you are doing!

  5. Rhonda Joyce Morrill on February 27, 2014 at 10:52 am

    My, “the times they are a changin’ ”
    Holdeman Mennonites just under Old Order Mennonites in practices/conservatism… Holdeman women would NEVER mix with others (except in daily grocery/fabric shopping). NEVER read a book that is not internally published. Would NEVER ever consider that they HAVE a voice–only submission to husband…
    Things are shaking up at the top… wonder if that will result in a loosening of “rules” or tightening of same…
    Thank you for these wonderful articles
    Warm hug, Rhonda

    • shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      Rhonda, on a cold and blustery day the idea of a warm hug is especially appealing.

      You point out something that many people overlook: there are many kinds of plain groups. It may be that the times are a-changin’ or it may be that different Old Order groups are different in their practices, even now.

      And, like Kathy herself points out, even members of the same group can have different internal motives, so that the faces under identical coverings can convey very different messages.

      thanks for your comment, Rhonda! Both here and on my Facebook page.

      Such a complex subject!

  6. Renita on February 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    On the one hand, I respect any woman’s right to choose how she dresses and presents herself to the world, whether it’s an Anabaptist head covering, a Muslim hijab, or a thoroughly “modern” uncovered short-haired head.

    On the other hand, I have a real problem with this:

    “to protect oneself against sexual temptations or attacks”

    which veers dangerously close to blaming women who are victims of sexual assault, and also paints men (and possibly women too?) as unable to control themselves. This is not something we want to perpetuate. Make your choices for your life as you see fit, but don’t believe that by wearing a v-neck shirt, earrings and a chin-length haircut I am somehow opening myself up to attack or assault.

    • Veronica on August 19, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      I am a Quaker who covers, and while I had never articulated it, that statement about protecting oneself against sexual temptations holds truth for me. I do not believe that the way I dress or whether or not I wear a prayer covering changes my risk against attack, and I agree that that suggestion falls closely towards victim shaming. However, I do feel that it protects my OWN mind from temptation, as I am much less likely to act out when I am aligned with God than when without. At least, that’s how I interpreted it.

      • Shirley Showalter on August 19, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        Hi Veronica, I like your emphasis on the inner life, quite consistent with being a Quaker. Not only do you choose to cover your head, you choose to interpret the decision to be one focused on your own thoughts and actions more than anyone else’s. I admire your clarity of purpose.

  7. shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you, Renita, for this important observation. I agree with you. And now I want to go back to the article itself to make sure I didn’t misinterpret the idea of protection, which was cited by some of the interviewees.

    I’ve invited the researcher Beth E. Graybill to speak to this issue. I summarized the points in a much longer article and want to be sure that I didn’t over-interpret. If I did, I will correct.

    Thanks again!

    Shirley

    • Renita on February 27, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks for your reply. I know that there are people out there who feel that way, but I believe it’s important to point out the danger in that way of thinking.

      Overall, though, I find your posts on this very interesting.

  8. shirleyhs on February 27, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks, Renita. One good way to point to the error is that women who wear plain clothing are also subject to assault. Author Saloma Miller Furlong makes that clear in her TV interview: http://fox43.com/2014/02/26/former-amish-woman-writes-second-memoir-bonnet-strings

  9. Beth E Graybill on February 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    In my definitive chapter, referred to by Shirley, I describe the quotes to me by women who wear the head covering. One feeling that they told me they ascribe to it is God’s protection,yet we know of plain-dressing Amish and Mennonite women who have been assaulted. Nevertheless, this was these women’s felt belief. I have written elsewhere about Anabaptist Theology and Violence against Women, a theme to which I recently returned in a recent talk at the Women’s Doing Theology conference.

    • shirleyhs on February 28, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      Thank you, Beth. It’s good to have your voice here. Thank you for doing careful research, respectful of all women. If there is a link to any published work of yours online, please share it.

  10. Saloma Furlong on March 1, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I am going to weigh in here on the issue that Renita raised. I believe that what we wear reflects our inner feelings and motives — that whatever we decide to wear for a given social event sends a message to the people around us, just as body language does. Certain clothes are meant to be sexy or provocative in this culture that is hypersexualized. We as women should not have all the responsibility for how men relate to us, but I think we need to take part of that responsibility by being aware of the carriage of our being. For some of us, that means we don’t follow the latest fashions that might lean in the direction of provocative, and for other women it may mean wearing a head covering and plain dress. So if someone chooses to “cover up” to feel safe, I am not here to say that’s wrong. At least these women know what they are conforming to and why, whereas in the mainstream culture, many women allow some arbitrary authority (usually not even women) in the fashion district to decide what they wear, and for no apparent reason other than to be “in style.” Seems to me the person who chooses plain dress is actually making a more conscious choice.

    • shirleyhs on March 1, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      Saloma, thanks for this candid assessment of how fashion and individual responsibility (both men’s and women’s) come together. Some women believe that there is no such thing as provocative dress. It seems that you believe women (and men?) should dress sensibly and modestly, without being slaves to fashion and without “hypersexualizing” the body. I expect you would also agree that plain clothing does not protect a woman if a man is intent on abuse. It is a man’s responsibility to control his behavior.

    • Renita on March 3, 2014 at 11:49 am

      Saloma,

      I understand what you are saying and appreciate your thoughts on this. I do want to avoid victim-blaming. Fashion choices are one thing and worthy of discussion, but that should not have any bearing on assault. Sexual assault is not about what the victim is wearing, how they were acting, where they were or even whether they were drinking. As Shirley points out, the responsibility to police behavior is solely on the abuser.

  11. Saloma Furlong on March 4, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Shirley and Renita, you are absolutely right. Having endured sexual abuse myself, I can attest to the fact that plain dress does not protect anyone from abusers. How women dress and the carriage of their being conveys whether they are open to casual sex. This is what I mean by hypersexualized.

  12. […] 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 […]

  13. Heather Marsten on March 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I enjoy your column and am grateful to “hear” Kathy’s response to your question as well as the other comments on this page. I am what you would term “English” but believe that my husband is the head of my family. That he answers to God and I am under his covering and protection. My children are taught that their dad is the spiritual head of the family. I have a different perspective on what is meant by head covering in the passage referenced, but honor the choice that Kathy and others make from their convictions. I think the most important thing Kathy said was that what is most important is what proceeds from her heart – if she is wearing a head covering or other clothing and her face does not radiate the love of God, then it is sad. Even Jesus said that the laws and traditions were there, but most important is that we love God and that we love the others. Jesus broke some of the traditions of the time such as hand washing or eating grain gleaned on sabbath, and he even worked on the sabbath (healing others) instead of making them suffer for another day. What Jesus consistently portrayed was LOVE, and our traditions and beliefs must also stem from love and show love to others or, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, we are a clashing cymbal – and we aren’t representing God very well.

    • shirleyhs on March 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Heather, thank you for adding your voice to this conversation. And for pointing out that many women who do not wear coverings share a similar interpretation of I Corinthians 11 when it talks about headship.

      One scripture that Christian women can unite upon is this one: Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

      And, as you said, I Corinthians 13 is another.

      Blessings to you. I see you blog, so I am off to pay a visit.

  14. […] written about this question in Coverings and Bonnets, Amish, Quaker, and Mennonite Stories: Part Two and have told the stories of three women who wear prayer coverings, for different reasons, […]

  15. Delmer B. Martin on July 1, 2016 at 2:45 am

    Dear Fellow Pilgrims;

    I grew up Old Order Mennonite in Waterloo County Ontario Canada (an outgrowth of Weaverland Mennonite in PA and my parents and all the way back to the 1500’s were all Mennonite farmers) and even though i did not ever become baptized/become a member in the old order Church I wholeheartedly embrace the Holy Bible.

    Yes (even though my wife does not actually wear a physical head covering)I strongly believe in 1 Corinthians 11;6 …however I believe just as strongly in Ephesians 5;25 which stipulates “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” I often meditate on the verse from John 15:13 ” Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The key is that Jesus gave up his life/died a humanly death for his followers and true believers. Frankly I do not object being in subjection (under someones headship) like JESUS. It is a privilege, to not be completely dominated by Satan in this wicked world.

    Almost every one of my old order Mennonite neighbors (1000’s of them which I am acquainted with personally) are extremely committed to GODS loving “headship” provision which is best for everyone. I believe and they believe that Jesus Christ is “The Head” of the whole Christian Church and Congregation so the husbands FIRST and foremost are ALL are under Jesus Christ’s teaching/headship and only if this provision is successfully applied things bode extremely well for the wives in this wicked world we live in.

    Now I personally believe what is in the heart (including my wifes heart)is even more important than what we wear on our heads! Any old order Mennonite husband who does not guard his heart in subjection / in trust of Jesus could find himself in big trouble no matter what he or his wife wears…The Bible makes it clear to me that the husband in a Christian marriage will be held to the highest level of accountability, on judgement day. Simply relying on traditional dress etc will not cut it.

    On an important sidenote, since I have been seeking the truth for many many years now I have found out that many civil rights movements (including feminism and environmentalism etc) were actually founded and funded by elitest organizations (ie; the Rockefeller type groups etc.) specifically to create division among the common people. The “Cloward-Piven Theory” is one of Satan’s most devious plans. Please research it before you comment and call me any names. The elitest and the powerful political type they control use this power more so than ever, especially in the USA to control the masses. Male vs Female or black vs white is simply ALL bad and NOTHING good!!! All of this is predicted in the Bible and it is Satan’s attempt to temporarily unseat the HEADSHIP of Jesus granted by God Forever!

    Frankly my biggest worry nowadays for Amish and Mennonites everywhere is that if everything is invested in “Acts” as a result the “Great Commission” is neglected.

    Become free by sticking with Jesus and the Bible and God will accept you under Jesus’s HEADSHIP.

    My favorite verse in the whole Bible is John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

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