Acceptance and the Church

As self-identified minorities have clamoured for a voice in government, education, culture and the church, I think some other voices got pushed to the edges and maybe even silenced. Traditional men have been complaining about this for a few years; they once held most of the influence and power, and now they are just a voice amongst many. That is a whole other issue. Should a group that has held power, and not always wisely, take a back seat (or backbench in parliament) and let others have a turn? Should they acknowledge that they need to make room? On the other side of that, they are often the best educated and most experienced, and still control most of the financial assets. How does all of that fit together in a changing world?

But another group that never had much power or influence directly still isn’t at the table. That is traditional women. Despite, in the Anglican Church, the influence and fund-raising ability of the Women’s Auxiliary and Anglican Church Women, traditional women have sat on the sidelines and pretty much still do. (And this despite the remarks about the Women’s Artillery and the Army of Church Women. The rectors of the past were right, that these were the only places where women did have power in the church, and often they wielded it with an iron fist, as far as they could reach.)

Even more than men in suits and ties, we traditional women are seen as archaic, an anachronism in a church and culture that prides itself on moving with the times. The elder women may still be in the parish kitchen in forty year old aprons, but we younger ones (though I am feeling older by the day) sit in the pews, but rarely do we sit on vestry or council. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. They don’t know how to help us find ministry. I am ordained and my traditional dress and manner still cause consternation and hesitation.

Partly the church has accepted the cultural perception of the Plain: that we have little education, are extremely shy, that we will be obstinate and immovable in making decisions. Traditional women are perceived as having no independent thought, and relying on their husband’s opinions for everything. This is despite the facts, that while some Plain people do not have advanced education, they are often self-educated, and Plain people outside the Old Orders may have university degrees; that a peaceful mind and a quiet voice are not necessarily signs of shyness; that we may come from many different backgrounds and have varying opinions from each other as well as from society. My independence and creativity are things my husband found attractive before we married, and he does not try to stifle that. He has always relied on my knowledge, experience and power of logic. While I may defer to him on many matters, (Shall we sell the car? Do we live in this town or the next one over?) he wouldn’t make a decision without taking into account what I think or want. This is just basic respect for another human being; it has nothing to do with power and authority, which are Christ’s.

The church doesn’t know what to do with us, and most don’t know how to begin to learn. Quite often, even though we have attended a church for a period of time, we find we never get to know the other members. They may exchange a few words at coffee hour, but we have never, in the last few years, been invited to a member’s home except as part of a church group. We can’t always invite others to our home, because of living arrangements, but it is indeed the burden on the older members to invite the new ones, not the other way around. This is just part of the general lack of hospitality rampant in the churches; once our strongest feature, we have completely lost a sense of building community. And thus we exclude others when Jesus called us to welcome them in, unconditionally.

So what should the church be doing, to welcome those who are on the edges, to encourage women to have a strong sense of who they are, to include those who just don’t fit the mold?

First, get rid of the mold. Stop being a shill for culture and be the body of Christ.

Second, look for wisdom first in scripture, and then in the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Stop trying to twist these into a modern shape.

Third, stop accomodating money and worldly power. Jesus had neither of these. He told us to stay away from them.

Foruth, stop looking at the outside of people and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us see what is inside.

Fifth, get away from programmes and workshops and books about how to be Church and just go do it. Look seriously at what Christ said, what Christ did, and how the Apostles lived that out. We are probably not going to put on sandals and walk everywhere, preaching the gospel in the marketplace, but it wouldn’t hurt if we did.

Traditional women, you will have to be supportive of each other. Plain or not, you be the welcoming ones: Hospitality is a traditional woman’s ministry. Live out your role in the body if Christ by doing what you do well. Bake, sew, nurse the sick, teach the children, grow produce for the hungry. In the work that is given to us we must be the leaders. Men in suits and women in high heels, no matter how much power and money they carry, will never see us as influenetial or even useful. Elders will have to shepherd the young. So the ACW will need to start recruiting traditional young women and making room for them. Worldly people may have to shut up and listen; insist in a Spirit-filled way that we are hear to be heard.

It is just a beginning. I believe the Lord is leading us to take a seat at the table, not just in the shadows. In our own way, with meekness and humility, we will need to be the voice of the past and the future. Plain has a lot to offer, and we are the ones who bear that tradition.


13 thoughts on “Acceptance and the Church

  1. It is easy to stereotype people. We live amongst a large Amish population – it is easy to drive by Amish farms and buggies and think WOW they really are GOOD Christian people they really have the life. However, they are poeple like the rest of us, they have struggles, and dissension too. Alcoholism among the men is common and all of the problems that brings. Families are torn apart if a family member decides to leave the Amish faith, many are Amish not because of a strong faith, but because it is the only way they know how to live. Some families in the community are very strong in their faith, others are not, just because they dress plain does not mean they are more Christian than a non plain person. There is much sadness, one older couple are now shunned from the Amish church, they raised ten children and a couple of their sons left the Amish church to start their own church, The Charity Church, soon all ten of their married children joined The Charity Church along with all of their grandchildren. The parents have two choices – 1. stay Amish and shun all of their children and grandchildren, or 2. be shunned and remain in contact with their family. They chose opton 2. Ramifications of this decision – they still live/dress Amish – but no one in the Amish community supports their business, they have no contact with their own siblings, and their children will not let them join The Charity Church becase the husband smokes and drinks – so they now belong no where. Where does Christ fit in to all of this? Where is forgiveness? Where is love? Where is hope? Where is charity? And, please do not think this is an isolated incident in a community – it is played out in all Amish families, as every family has at least one family member who has chosen to leave. Never, Ever, think that a way of dressing makes a person more Christian. The local Mennonite church, they do not dress plain, reaches out shares the love of Christ, they do so many things through the Mennonite Central Commitee to offer comfort and aid to those less fortunate and to share Christ. My own Catholic parish runs a soup kitchen, a day shelter for the homeless, collects for Haiti, does outreach programs for the inner city -Shares Christ’s Love – and no one at our church dresses plain.
    Only God knows what is in our heart, the Pharisees were all about outward appearances of piety, but God knew that they needed to change inside.
    It is very easy to judge people, we are very wrong if we assume that a person who does not dress plain, or is educated, or is wealthy, or has power, is some how incapable of being a Christian – God gives each of us talents and it is up to us to use them correctly. If you are blessed with intelligence and become educated and earn a good living – what are you going to do with your wealth? Some spend it on themselves, and others use the wealth to make a difference in world. For example the attorney in MI who retired wealthy and has spent a lot of money and time in the slums of Brazil installing PVC pipe so that people have clean water and sewage is taken away – why does he do this, because he wants to serve God and help those less fortunate. This man is a white male and a Christian!
    We must not paint groups of people with the broad brush of assumption.

    • Which I think you just did. You assume that Plain people cannot be faithful to Christ because they make an outward sign of faith. Jesus Christ called us to a life of simplicity, sacrifice and holy poverty, if we follow Him. I have seen dissension in Plain churches, but no more so than in the Baptist Church, the Anglican Church, the Methodists, and certainly the Catholics. There are many Plain Catholics and have been for about a century. There are Plain people in all denominations these days. It is a growing movement in the Spirit.

      Pharisees wore rich robes, sought positions of power, and made a fanfare of their temple donations. The Lord and the Apostles taught us to make our donations and do our good works quietly and without praise, for our reward is in heaven. If we seek praise and fame for our good works on earth, that is all the reward we will get. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand does in charity!

  2. But Magdalena, you just go on and on and on about your plain attire – I assume you are still a Christian in your pink pajamas? I assume you are still a Christian in the shower, how does your bonnet make you more Christian than a person who doesn’t wear a bonnet? I am just trying to understand why you think your plain attire makes you so superior to all other Christians.

    • I don’t think you aer quite getting it yet. Plain is an attitude of submission and sacrifice. Like a nun’s habit, or a Franciscan’s robes. It is not an attitude of superiority, or I’ve missed the point. I “go on and on” to help others struggling with this way of life. Are you also convicted of it? If not, why do you bother reading the blog?

      • I know a lot of Amish people, am friendly with them, have visited with them in their homes, gone to cook outs, buggy rides, etc. etc. and generally they are good bunch of people. One thing I have never, ever heard any of them talk about is their clothing, they talk about God, they want everyone to be “a believer”, they offer hospitality, they will help you if you need help. Amish are humble, their life is a witness, all I pointed out is that they struggle with many of the same things non-Amish struggle with – that is any time you have a community of people there will be disagreements, compromises, etc.

        I apologize if I have offended you. I read your blog because generally I enjoy your posts, they are thought provoking. Sometimes it seems that you disapprove of so much and I think that in some instances you might be cutting off your nose to spite your face. As St. Francis said, preach the gospel at all times and speak if necessary – part of the Franciscan charism is JOY!

        To be truly humble is to not even realize that we are humble, because as soon as we think we are humble we have taken pride in our humbleness 🙂

      • I have fought this fight for a long time. I may be vain, but I am not proud. That got beaten out of me. I am not offended, but I am weary.

        Jane, if thee is convicted, then get to thy knees and pray about it. Keep thy tongue to thyself until thee has walked in our shoes.

  3. I don’t think Jane said that plain people can’t be faithful, she just said that it is not all pictures of perfection, just like every community you have those with strong faith and those with little of no faith, it is not the clothing, it is the heart that God looks at.

    As for self-identified minorities – we have to be careful that we do not make victimhood our cause, and become so mired in our victimhood that it becomes an excuse to fail.

    • There is a strong note of accusation in jane’s comment, ans she may be justified in it, if she has been very disappointed in finding that religious minorities are not all pictures of perfection. We are all working out our salvation with fear and trembling! As a Plain person, I am called in the Holy Spirit to a way of life – a discipline – that includes an outward sign of the inward heart. I have made the point here and elsewhere, and almost daily in the world, that I am not Amish or Mennonite, that Plain is not a cultural way, but a spiritual way, just as it was for the first Plain people, the Quakers.

      I agree that minorities, self-ientified or otherwise, need to avoid victimhood and a self-conscious air of martyrdom. But Christians do get martyred, and there are victims. As for failure – well, I won’t have failed if I keep on fighting the good fight, even unto death.

  4. This is the 3rd time in 3 days that I read such opinions about the Amish being legalistic Pharisees along with being greedy. It’s such a shame that people have this opinion of Plain People and I believe it’s down to those sensationalized TV programs.

    The Old Order Amish take shunning to far but most Anabaptists are not that extreme and most Anabaptists are involved in charity work- raising money for Haiti, helping clear up after Hurricane Katrina, canning their own food for export to those in need, missions & orphanages aboard, singing in nursing homes & prisons, caring for babies with parents in prison and so on…


    Yes, some Plain People are not true Christians, yes, some Plain People make mistakes but that’s true for ALL Christians. Just because they choose to obey the commands to biblical modesty does not mean they think they are superior to others nor does it give outsiders an excuse to point their finger and accuse all Plain People of certain crimes when a Plain Person stumbles.

    Jane a bonnet does not make one Christian but it pleases God when a Christian woman obeys His commands for women to cover their hair. What Christian does not wish to please God with obedience?

    Of course the bonnet does not save but soup kitchens do not save either.Some pagan women adopt Plain Dress and many atheists help the poor but they will not be saved because we do not get saved by works alone (which is impossible) but by grace.We need to repent our sins and accept Jesus as our saviour to be saved, then after that comes the modest dress and caring for others.

    I dress as Plain as I can Jane and I do not see myself as superior. I was called to cover and when I fought it I had no peace. On donning my veil I received peace. Does obeying God make me a Pharisee? Jane when I would not cover my hair, my prayers were empty and unanswered.I lacked peace, so really I did not have a choice in the matter.

    When I arise in the morning I put on a long skirt and a long top- no makeup or jewelry- does that make me a Pharisee?

    • Well said and with passion! Lucy, as always. I can’t wait to explore some of these references. Blessings to thee!

  5. Frances Fischer over at writes lovingly and eloquently concerning Plainness, and, ‘Quaker jane’ herself addresses many valid areas of concern that arise in understanding of the growing Plain ‘movement’. Issues of acceptance and rejection, motivations behind bleonging, behaviours within sigments of society, or within a community as a whole are not unique to Plain groups; they are mirrored in communities worldwide, for communities are comprised of finite, faulty, flawed human beings. From Eden to the Apostolic Church, across the world, down through history, these issues and shortcomings have been a feature of society. It is my experience that issues that are common within the community at large are seemingly magnified in an identifiable intentional group, primarily because the group itself is more readily identifiable. As a person with a significant disability of the guide dog using, Braille reading, Speech Access interface software using variety, these issues plague the Blindness Community as much as the Plain community, or indeed, the community within one’s immediate geographical area, regardless of demographic composition.As for ‘Plainness’, it is neither a badge of honour or suffering; it merely ‘is’. The fastest growth of Plainness is occuring within the lives of individuals scattered right across the denominational spectrrum, around the world, and is embraced by persons as diverse as ‘Third Order’ Fransiskans (Third Orders are also growing in number and location), the ‘Brothers and Sisters of Penitence’ (another third Order_, plus individual Catholics, protestants and Orthodox worldwide. Plainness also takes many different forms, from ‘austere Plain’ to permutations that are less so, as folk are inexeribly drawn to it. Plain is to dignity of comportment and appearance (not to mention, a sign against all that is ghastly concerning the provision of clothing and so called ‘fashion’ around the globe) for both men and women as

    and its manifesto is to sustainable agriculture, food security and food as a human right for all. All faiths contain a ‘Plain’ element

    Think of ‘Plain’ in the light of some excellent Catholic documents (If i may be thus permitted,
    Laborum Exercens, Gaudium Et Spes, and ‘Man, Poverty and Wealth’, along with all the Biblical references that undergird these documents that contain something for everyone regardless of denomination.


    Sarah. Magdalena),

    • Since you are studying at a Catholic institution, I would think you would be permitted. My time at a Jesuit University opened my eyes to the wealth of material that the Roman church has on the subject of poverty. It was there that I learned the phrase “the preferential option for the poor,” and I have tried to live by it since. Plain, and my Austere Plain is the best expression of it for me. The tough part was learning to be poor, and not just looking at it from outside.

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