Anglicans, Covering, Hats and Tradition

Anglican women used to cover their heads in church. It wasn’t that long ago. My Baptist mother and her friends wore plain hats or scarves in church until the mid 1960s; many Anglican and Episcopal women did so until later.

I don’t really know why they stopped. Many look back with nostalgia and wistful remembrance. Others found it oppressive and vain. It was perhaps both, as well s a sign of obedience and humility for others.

There was no order or canon about covering. It was expected, a custom. Then Catholic women stopped covering after Vatican II, and one would think the Church of Rome had spoken for all. This was not the case.

The Protestant argument that a woman’s covering is her long hair and not a piece of fabric became prevalent. As I’ve said elsewhere, this was an error of interpretation. Paul did indeed mean that  a woman should wear her hair long and uncut, if possible, as representing the glory of God; the veil was her modesty and obedience, a symbol of headship under Christ. Women alone have that privilege. Men uncover before the altar; women have the benefit of glory, as Moses was veiled after descending from Mount Horeb, for the glory of God was reflected in him.

Anglican women are not released from this headship and this glory. I believe it would be better if we acknowledged our relationship to Christ in veiling, that is, in covering our heads before the altar. I wear a prayer cap; others wear a small veil or scarf or kerchief, which has the same effect.

If hats are worn in church, they should be simple cloth or knit caps of the skull cap, snood or cloche type, unornamented. A plain black or straw bonnet is acceptable, if a bit anachronistic if one is not Plain. The hat should match the style of clothes. Plain women wear Plain coverings; modern dress women should wear something modern but unpretentious. One’s church clothes, in fact, should be simpler rather than elaborate. The occasion is a solemn celebration, not a garden party or an evening gala. Colour is acceptable, but unnecessary frills and certainly anything that suggests a show of skin and figure is inappropriate. Church services are not a fashion show or an occasion for finding a boyfriend. (Don’t get me started on wedding attire.)

I used to wear hats to church, before I was Plain. Some of them may have been a little more decorative than necessary. A black straw cloche was a favourite, and matched a lot of my clothes. A navy blue brimmed hat, of vintage extraction, was simple but elegant. I had a summer white brimmed hat, pinned up on one side with a fabric flower. It may have been a little elaborate for an older woman, but perhaps was excusable when I was twenty-five.

Still, Sunday morning is not the Easter parade. (That’s an arcane reference some readers will have to look up.) A basic dress and a simple hat will do service for many years, provided they are in good repair. A short veil of the charity style is never wrong, even if people ask if you are a nun. (Yes, they will.)

It’s too bad that women rarely cover even in church. It makes Christian women look worldly, more concerned with their appearance than their piety. Vanity and immodesty are never at home in the church, or in the heart of a Christian.

Mothers should, at least, set a good example for daughters by wearing a modest dress or skirt, and this one day in the week insist that their daughters put on a skirt and modest blouse.  I see young women every year who have never had a skirt until they want to look grown-up for prom or a wedding. They walk like boys in their skirts, they are so unaccustomed to the proper way to hold their legs, arms and feet. Teenagers today are much too concerned about appearance and social status. They need some sort of break from all that, if they are ever to find themselves.

Equally, young women should learn to wear a headcovering at the appropriate time. There are cultures where a woman in tight jeans and with her head bare will cause problems, and if our daughters ever travel beyond our own borders, they should have some sense of what to do and why.

Just because the rest of the world decided it didn’t need rules doesn’t mean we are excused from following them.

16 thoughts on “Anglicans, Covering, Hats and Tradition

  1. I wish Anglican women would start covering again too. I get tired of being the only one. When Mom and Dad were married in ’70, Mom had to start wearing a hat to church (she was raised baptist/united).

    More often than not, I wear my usual covering to church. Though I do wear hats too. I think the priests like to see coverings too. At midnight Mass (at SMM in Toronto) this year, we had the bishop there and an older priest in charge. When shaking hands after church, I got very welcome greetings and looks of approval from both men. You could tell they were pleased to see a covered young woman in church.

    My only ‘concern’ is that I’m not sure when to introduce Ella to covering?

    • If your husband agrees, now is the time. A little kerchief held on with clippies probably won’t bother her, and if she’s at the imitative play stage (from ages 2-7 or thereabouts) she will want to mimic you. Some little ones hate anything tied under their chins. Others won’t keep it on unless it is tied.You may have to try different styles for her until you both decide what works for now. Patience, at just two years old, will wear a beret or close cap, but doesn’t like things tied for long. She doesn’t have enough hair to clip anything to! You might try a crocheted cap for church now, a kerchief later, and see if she wants to cover all the time. Eventually, of course, it is her decision.

  2. I was thinking about making her a little kerchief. She’s turning 4 in February and loves to be like Momma. I wish they still made nice little girl hats.

  3. paula, has some beautiful coverings for girls of all ages. they’ll be bound to have something that your daughter both loves and can wear with a minimum of fuss. also may have something suitable; the business owner is, I think, newly Anglican.

    Additionally, i have purchased from her and she’s happy, if you’ve got the time to spare, work with you to create lovely custom coverings.

    Let’s pray more Anglican women return to covering and that more coverers are led to Anglican Christianity.

    Magdelaina, a wonderful and thought provoking post as always!! You are, and continue to be, an incredible blessing!!


    • The only other woman in our church who covers is an older woman who wears a felt brimmed hat. It is a simple design, and I think quite sensible, since the church is old and drafty at times. I usually wear a shawl to keep the drafts off my neck. There’s another benefit to Plain modest dress – we’re warmer in winter, with lots of layers! And in the summer, we rarely get sunburned.

      I will look up prayercoverings. I like Garlands of Grace. Very pretty coverings!

      Thank you for the compliments. I am trying to get my CV and what Nicholas calls my “Cover story” (cover letter) together this week.

  4. I wouldn’t stop at just Anglican women needed to cover. It should be all Christian women since we all (hopefully) believe the same Bible.

    I like what you said about the covering matching the type of clothing, plain with plain, more worldly for contemporary. There was a tea for conservative plain women I went to once. All the ladies including me had their hair up under a prayer cap and were wearing very conservative dresses (some were Amish even). However, one woman had short hair (above her shoulder) and a more contemporary dress, yet she wore the same prayer cap as the rest of us. She looked very out of place. If she’d had a straw hat or more contemporary covering like a kerchief it would have been better. As it was, it was a bit confusing if she was new to being plain or just playing dress up.

    • Yes, plunking a white cap on your head doesn’t make you Plain. Rather than fitting in, she made herself stand out. Even the strictest of Amish groups have friends in the outside world, and are aware of differences, even accepting (because you’re not Amish, so the ordnung does not apply.) I saw someone recently in historic dress, approximately the seventeenth century, with her hair cut short, and a fringe out the front of her full cap! Ludicrous. Only a woman who was being punished would have had her hair cut that short.

  5. I, technically, am Anglican. My husband is Catholic (he became Catholic at the Easter vigil this year). We were Episcopalian for 5 years. We finally left after the U.S. elected that woman as presiding bishop.( I do know her name), I just don’t like bleeding heart liberals! And she is one. I go to church with my husband, as I have no other way to get anywhere else,( we only have 1 car)! I have been feeling led by the Lord to start covering, especially in church. I have picked out a covering that I like for church, I just have to order it.
    It will be from “She Maketh Herself Coverings”

    • “That woman” is not a respectful way to address any ordained person. Even if you disagee with her politics, she has a right to them, as you do to yours. I know little about her, since I had left the United States before she was elected. The American Episcopal Church, in general, is more liberal than the Canadian, although the full spectrum of views is represented. The Northern States seem to be, on the whole, more liberal than the Southern, so it depends on where you live.

      I have attended Catholic churches from time to time. Is there any problem with taking communion? I’ve never been refused, but some priests jsut don’t like non-Catholics partaking, especially the more Conservative ones. And it is always acceptable to wear a mantilla (lace veil) in a Catholic church.

      Keep praying about your discernment; it is only in the Holy Spirit that we can follow our Lord.

  6. Magdalena,

    Why are you no longer a practicing priest? Did you post about it somewhere and I missed it? Of course I have not looked thru all of you past posts, so if you did blog about it, could you lead me to the correct post?

    • Although I am still a priest, I had a disagreement with my bishop and chose to do some unpaid mission work for a while. I’ve probably hinted at it in various posts. I am hoping to find another parish soon.

  7. I was searching for a plain hat to wear to church and came upon this site.

    I just want to add that the Vatican did not “do away with” the custom for women to wear a cover at church. Women have made the choice to give up the custom over many years- especially during the feminist movement.

    This is an old and wonderful tradition that all Christian women should partake in.

    Here is a long, but very good article explaining the move from the tradition:

    I recently began covering at church, but am the only one (minus one elderly lady with her hat). I definitely get the looks and even a comment from my own dad, which I expected, because people have so easily forgotten why it was done in the first place so it’s strange for them to see someone young bringing it back. I will continue on though because it is for God, not them.

    Also, to the woman below, magdalenaperks: It is requested that you do not receive communion in a Catholic Church if you are not Catholic and have not had the Sacrament of 1st Holy Communion. This is not to exclude anyone- it is out of respect for our belief that Communion/Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, not a symbol as most other churches believe. However, you are welcome to still go up to communion, but instead of receiving Eucharist, you can cross your arms against your chest (right hand to your left side, left hand to your right side) and the Eucharist Administor or Priest (depending on what line you are in) will bless you. Many children do this so they can join their parents; and adults do it so they don’t sit alone while everyone else walks up- Plus you are blessed! :) My husband went up for the blessing every Sunday for months before he was confirmed.

    Thank you for the article. I always enjoy reading about other people’s customs and beliefs.

    • Thanks for the information. I went to a Catholic university and received communion from all the priests there but one, who simply did not communicate anyone who wasn’t confirmed RC. Yes, they knew I was not RC. I suppose as a consecrated person (ordained) I hold a sort of dual citizenship, and it is certainly a courtesy of the priest to give me communion. As it is the decision of priest or bishop as to who will receive, a general instruction from a layperson as to its propriety is at the least unnecessary. (That is me, Magdalena, author of the blog post.)

      • I had a friend at university who was marrying a Catholic fellow. She was Anglican and was willing to ‘convert’. The parish priest (who worked at the Vatican! for quite a while) told her it was unnecessary as she was high church Anglican.

        Besides, I thought all/most Anglicans believed in the ‘True Presence’ of Christ during the Eucharist, not just ‘a memorial’.

        BTW Allison, I did receive the Sacrament of First Communion, I was Confirmed as well.

        I wish Catholics wouldn’t lump all Protestant religions together.

      • I’ve found in my many years of travel that RC dioceses are as diverse as Anglican dioceses. Bishops do have more discretion in how their dioceses are run than most lay people realize. My older sister is RC, and she went through the long course, but she needed to learn about the sacraments and such, which Baptists don’t emphasize. Anglicans do have a decidely Anglican view of the Real Presence – Christ is present in the Communion and the Elements received worthily are efficacious for salvation (to strengthen the soul and turn the heart to Christ), but the bread and wine do not transubstantiate – become actual flesh and blood. Actually, the idea that the Roman Church has an official doctrine of transsubstantion is partly erroneous. My Church History professor at Georgetown had a long lecture on transsubstantion as an erroneous “doctrine”.

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