Why I Cover My Head In Church

It’s been a year since I first started really digging into 1 Corinthians 11 and began wearing a head covering when I attend church services. I’d been wondering about 1 Cor. 11 for years, but hadn’t really looked into it all that deeply. None of the explanations about why we don’t cover today satisfied me, but I didn’t feel I had a good enough argument in favor of covering to go against my church tradition. I’d discussed it with a few women in my congregation, but they seemed confused by the passage and had decided that your hair is your covering and the “we have no such custom” phrase meant veiling/covering in church wasn’t necessary today.

My Covering Testimony | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Then a year ago I stumbled upon The Head Covering Movement through a blogger. Here was a group who took this passage seriously. They were ready to talk about what “because of the angels” might mean. They engaged directly with a variety of arguments against covering in a respectful way solidly rooted in scripture and history. They even had a good explanation for the phrase “we have no such custom.”

How I started covering

My Covering Testimony | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flea market find — head covering for $1!

My first reaction was to talk with my mother, who was suspicious of the whole idea. I then reached out to a friend who’d been sending me “rants” about scriptures that didn’t make sense to him. My own “rant” went something as follows: “should I start wearing a scarf because this makes sense to me? or did I miss something in their interpretation of these verses that I shouldn’t agree with? Maybe my mother’s right that it’s not a big deal and it would be too distracting to people around me in church.”

Even before I heard back from him, I wore a wide headband to church that Sabbath. I thought it was big enough to count as a covering, yet not something I hadn’t worn before so it wouldn’t attract much attention. A few days later, my friend wrote something that helped confirm my decision: “It is good that you’re mindful of not causing a ruffling of feathers among fellow congregants, but we can only control so much of other people. … So, I would just encourage you to follow your conviction wherever that leads you. If people have a problem, it is their Christian duty to confront you about it, and I doubt anyone would still have a problem with you/your apparel upon inquiring about your intent in doing so.”

My friend is a smart man. I’d already taken baby-steps toward covering, but his encouragement was reassurance that I wasn’t just going “off the deep end.” I ordered my first cover from Garlands of Grace on July 15 (pictured in the featured image), and started building a collection of head scarfs. Since then, I’ve only had one person in the United Church of God groups I attend ask about the fact that I cover my head, but at my Messianic group there are a few other women who cover and the topic comes up more often. I’ve received compliments on how I wear them, as well as on the fact that I’m covering. One person said, “I appreciate that you wear a cover when you dance.” I’m not doing this to seek attention of course, but for someone whose love language is Words of Affirmation this support was invaluable.

Support for covering

In terms of scripture, the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is the main support for the practice of Christian head covering. A few other scriptures tie in to it (such as Num. 5:18 instructing the priest to uncover the head of a woman accused of adultery), but this is the only place where it’s focused on. You can check out The Head Covering Movement for more in-depth analysis, but here’s what convicted me that covering is for the church today:

  1. God’s created order for headship is the foundational reason for covering (v.2-3, 7-12).
  2. It’s described as a dishonor and a shame for women to “pray or prophecy” uncovered (v. 4-6).
  3. Paul says “nature itself” (including the examples of short hair on men and long hair on women) teach us covering is proper (v. 13-15). I also think this is support for the hair acting as a covering sometimes and an additional cover only being required when “praying and prophesying.”
  4. The “we have no such” custom phrase grammatically refers back to the question in v. 13 of women praying uncovered. No where in scripture does Paul suggest people can ignore a command he writes about simply because they are contentious over it.

On top of those reasons, the arguments most people use against head covering are, for me, an argument in favor of it. They say it was a strictly cultural matter that no longer applies — that in Corinth, only prostitutes went about with uncovered heads and we don’t want to be mistaken for prostitutes. But Paul mentions no such thing and when we start throwing out commands because we think they’re strictly cultural we’re on a very slippery slope. On top of that, historical evidence shows the prostitutes referenced in this argument belonged to a Corinth of about 200 years before Paul’s writings and art of the time shows respectable women both covered and uncovered. The covering Paul talks about wasn’t based on a Greek or Roman practice (or even a Jewish practice, since both men and women covered in Judaism).

Left: Michelangelo’s The Pietà (1498-1499). Right: film still from Brooklyn (2015, setting 1952)
Left: Michelangelo’s The Pietà (1498-1499). Right: film still from Brooklyn (2015, setting 1952)

In reality, history shows us that head covering was practiced unanimously among Christian women for centuries. I hate to cite Wikipedia as a source, but in this case their article on Christian headcovering throughout history is unusually well-researched and more thoroughly cited than many other articles I’ve found online. Until a little over 50 years ago (with the sexual revolution and the feminist movement gaining traction), covering was the norm in church and often in public as well. Even fairly recently, no respectable lady would leave the house without a hat of some kind and she was expected to keep it on during church services. If you’re looking closely, you’ll notice this in well-researched historical dramas. Last year’s film Brooklyn, for example, was set in 1951 and ’52, and you’ll see Eilis removing a veil as she leaves a church in one scene and another scene where she’s wearing a pink cover at church.

Take away thoughts

My Covering Testimony | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Wrapunzel’s Israeli Tichel

While I don’t like to seem as if I’m pushing the notion of headcoverings on other people, I am doing this for a reason and a year of covering has only confirmed my choice. My encouragement to you today is to just take a closer look at this passage of scripture, and not to ignore it because we’re not sure what to do about it. Don’t start covering just because someone tells you to — study it and see if you’re convicted. And if you are, then don’t be afraid to start covering in church. Sure some people will probably think it’s strange, but as my friend said, “we can only control so much of other people.” If you’re convicted that you should be covering at church, then you’re doing it for God and not for what other people think (though you do want to try and avoid offending our brethren by how we practice covering).

Now, I don’t mean to sound like covering has been without its struggles or that it wasn’t a little weird at first or that I don’t still have questions. For example, how often to cover is still something I’m not clear on. I’m convicted of covering at church services (which is all The Headcovering Movement sees as necessary), but “praying and prophesying” could apply to other times as well. Do Bible studies count? What about dance practice, since the dancers pray as a group and sometimes I’m asked to pray aloud? I cover at home when praying in private, but should I cover for blessings on meals? or when writing these Sabbath blog posts, since that’s a sort of prophesying/inspired speaking? I’m not sure.

While thinking these things over, I’m keeping in mind that we can’t turn this into a legalistic thing, and I do think God hears prayers of uncovered women. Covering should be a way of honoring God, never something that stands between us and our Lord. But if it is indeed a command, and I believe it is, then it’s meant for our good, and that has been my experience. I’ve found that covering draws me closer to God and reminds me that I’m here to worship and to honor the Lord.

Shalom, my friends!
Download God's Love Story at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/577523

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14 thoughts on “Why I Cover My Head In Church

  • love this post. i find it interesting that we’re both infj’s, love the superheroes, AND we are interested in things Messianic. looking forward to reading more. of all. lol.

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  • Greetings, this is a topic Becky and I have researched extensively. I would like to offer some of our findings Paul focuses on the length of the hair in verses 13-15. Verse 15 plainly states “but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” The previous verse states “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him”. There are 16 verses in this passage and 4 of them reference hair length. If we are to take the last portion of verse 15 at face value “For long hair is given to her as a covering.”, How do we unite that with verse 6? “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.” It would appear Paul is talking out of both sides of his mouth.
    In 1Timothy 2:9 Paul states (Paraphrased) that women should dress modestly without braided or elaborate hair dos. That makes me ask why does a fancy hair style matter if it is to be covered out of sight?
    In the days this was written, from my studies, the head dress customs of the Jews, Greeks and Romans all varied widely. Many depictions from the era show bald women, hooded woman and some with a hair band. Others show very elaborate braiding that may have required a wire frame to support it. It is our belief that Paul was referring not to a piece of cloth but how the woman wore her hair – preferring it to probably be down an possibly bound.
    The women who wore the fancy braids were not modest and possibly a pagan priestess which could have been seen at the time as a sign of authority. If the sole purpose of this passage dealt with the need of a cloth veil, why are verses 13 thru 15 needed?
    We are not offended by coverings but tend to believe that God is more concerned with what is in our hearts rather than what is on our bodies. We are to be a peculiar people for sure but I believe the peculiarity is to come from our behavior, not our choice of dress. Just my 2 cents. Really enjoy your writing! Matt

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    • Thanks for commenting, Matt! I’m certainly not going to tell someone who’s researched the passages and is convinced that covering isn’t for today to go against their convictions and cover just because I came to a different conclusion. If it was a salvation issue, I’m sure the command would be more clear and discussed in other places. I agree 100% that God’s primary concern is the state of our hearts, though I think He also cares about how the state of our hearts influences how we dress (such as modesty commands in the NT and Deut. 22:5 about gendered differences in clothing).

      Personally, I don’t really see a disconnect between Paul’s discussions of hair and his talk of coverings if you assume he’s talking about covering only in certain situations, i.e. when praying and prophesying. The way I read it, he’s saying women should be covered when they pray and if they won’t cover it’s a shame in much the same way it would be shameful to shave her head. The hair is a covering and that fact is cited as support for Paul’s argument that women should cover their heads when praying. From v.13-15 in 1 Cor. and the verse you quote in Timothy, it doesn’t appear hair would be covered all the time, just in certain contexts and not necessarily completely hidden.

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  • Until I read this post, I had no idea there was a modern movement for head covering. I know conservative Anabaptist women still do this (i.e. Mennonites, Amish, some Church of the Brethren, etc.) and Latin American women in the Catholic churches wear a scarf. I believe some ethnic Orthodox women do as well. If you feel led by God to do so, then perhaps is the right way to go. I grew up in the Mennonite church and can attest to the fact that many modern Mennonite women have stopped wearing their prayer coverings for whatever reason. On the street, many look like the ladies at any other church. There is no distinctive appearance to tell them apart. Kudos to you for following this new movement in honoring the Lord.

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    • I was kinda surprised when I first discovered it, too. Since I’d been trying to figure out that passage for a while, it was something of a relief to find explanations of 1 Cor. 11 that made sense to me and to discover other women were acting on their convictions to cover in church.
      I actually first learned about the modern headcovering movements from a Catholic video talking about reviving the practice of veiling, then that led me to the website I mentioned in my article. It was only then I realized I’d never even thought about why the Amish and most of the Mennonite women in our area wear head covers.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

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  • I’ve done a lot of research into the passage as well. I discovered that the problem may very well be cultural in an unexpected way. Corinth was a multi-cultural church, it was a Roman-controlled region located on the Greek peninsula that was known for shipping and had a sizeable Jewish population. My thoughts are that the Judaizer sect who lost on the issue of circumcision were trying to get all the ladies of the church to cover their heads as per their Jewish tradition. You’re right that the Jewish tradition starts in Numbers 5:18 – some translations say ‘uncover’ others say ‘ loosen the woman’s hair’. The Talmud says that women who go out in public with uncovered heads can be divorced and her husband can withhold a divorce certificate and her money because it was viewed as proof that she had been unfaithful. I think Paul was getting at that a woman’s hair is equal to a head covering so that the non-Jewish believers weren’t required to wear a head covering per Jewish tradition so they should stop trying to make them obey a custom that doesn’t even exist in the church. One of my favorite translations puts it this way: “For this reason, a woman has the right to exercise control over her own head (to decide what she wears on her head) out of respect for the angels.” To be honest, it all comes down to a matter of interpretation, it can be interpreted in a number of ways: https://holdssway.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/because-of-the-angels/ nobody (including me) has come up with the one interpretation that rules them all.

    Decades ago, we as a society was a hat wearing society. My grandparents never went anywhere without them. I’m told that my great-grandmother was a proper lady, always wearing hear hat, gloves, a dress, and a pearl necklace when she went to church. It was customary for men to take of their hats at church, some of the older ones still have these massive hat-racks that go empty because not even the men wear hats anymore. Now this verse is uneven that way, because for men it’s no sacrifice to not wear a hat to church as they wouldn’t wear one as they went everywhere else. For ladies, it becomes an increasingly expensive endeavor to collect and store coverings. A documentary I saw about the tradition of wearing hats in African American churches talks about them being a status symbol and a bit of a fashion show, so quite a bit of money goes into them.

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    • I thought both men and women in Judaism covered and in Greek culture men and women didn’t consistently cover. In that case, Paul would have been correcting male Jewish converts for wearing coverings and Greek women for not covering.

      Wow, I knew “because of the angels” was a controversial passage, but you collected quite a few interpretations I’d never heard of. I agree we probably can’t come down definitively on a single interpretation, though there are some that I think make more sense. Thanks for your comment and the link to your post!

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      • Pharisees are often portrayed as always wearing their prayer shawls, so they often choose to cover. Even to this day, young Jewish men might opt to wear a kippah at all times in order to remind themselves to be humble before God. If you look at videos of the Western Wall, you’ll see that the men are required to wear hats (and they have the big section of the wall, the women get 1/3 of the wall so it’s far more crowded for them.) Greek men and women didn’t really have a custom, though Roman men had the custom of capite velato. For us though, there’s a tendency to discount any possibility of a cultural fingerprint in Scripture. One thing that not everyone knows is that Paul underwent a nazarite vow, so how can he say that long hair on men is disgraceful when he grew out his hair long for the purposes of the vow? Not only that, but history records that even women underwent nazarite vows, so how can it be disgraceful for women to cut off all their hair when she has dedicated it to God?

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  • Interesting! I’ve also researched this passage, but I came to the conclusion that the passage might be about hairstyles. (Here are some links which helped me along the way: https://www.pbpayne.com/1-cor-112-16-to-what-does-covered-refer/ http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/the-chiasm-in-1-corinthians-11_2-16/ ). Although we reached separate conclusions, I respect you for having your own educated opinion and acting on your convictions.

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    • Interesting articles — thanks for sharing. One thing I think we can all agree on is that 1 Cor. 11 can be interpreted a variety of ways and that, as you said, it’s important to respect each other convictions 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment!

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  • Hi Marissa, After a serious medical condition that made me realize how much I depend on God when it really comes down to it, I have decided to turn things a 180 and devote myself to him. One of the things that has been put in my heart is the matter of the head covering. I am going to follow the guided study on the head covering movement site for more insight. I was wondering: do you cover your head all the time now, or just when praying or going to church?

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    • I still don’t cover full-time — just when praying and studying (including writing blog posts like this one) and at church.

      If you’re on Facebook, there’s a group called “Headcovering Christian Women” that I’m a part of which you may like to join. It’s a friendly group and it would let you talk with a variety of women who cover their hair. Some cover all the time, some cover part time, and we’re all happy to answer questions from women who are new to covering or who are trying to decide if it’s the right choice for them.

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