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Covering Testimony: Mary Beth Voelker

Name: Mary Beth Voelker | Age: 59 | Location: Central North Carolina | Date started covering: Maundy Thursday, 2023

1) Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I’m a writer, stained glass artist, and deli clerk. I’ve been married for 35 years and have 4 children and 2 grandchildren. Over many years of doing many different things, I’ve been granted the understanding that God put me on earth to make stuff and feed people. I’ve lost count of the number of hobbies and crafts I’ve tried, but stained glass is the first one that shows a real prospect of turning into a profitable business.

Where do you attend church? Tell us a little bit about it. Do others practice head covering there?

I attend Grace Church, a large non-denominational, evangelical, contemporary church in central North Carolina. My husband and middle son are employed as tech staff, primarily serving at one of the multi-sites where our youngest son also volunteers as tech crew and I serve on the hospitality team. My job is feeding the volunteers. It  makes for a long day, especially for the tech-and-worship workers, as they don’t rotate out between services (unlike the greeters, ushers, and the children’s team).

We’re a Gospel-focused church with the formal mission to “Fill the city with Jesus.” We’re very conservative in many ways, such as only ordaining male ministers. But in a racially and ethnically diverse area where we focus on reaching those who don’t know Jesus at all, we’re very casual and low-key about dress code expectations and other trappings that would be familiar to people who grew up in mainline churches.

I may or may not be the only person covering among 200-300 people attending either the multi-site where I serve or the Thursday night service I sometimes attend. I don’t know about the 800-1000 or so people on Sunday morning at the main campus since I haven’t been there in a number of years, though I do remember one particular lady in the children’s ministry who always wore cute hats. I don’t know if she was covering religiously or just liked cute hats.

Head covering is not a topic that has ever been addressed from the pulpit. I hate to say it, but getting the young guys out of their ball caps might be more of a priority if the topic were to ever come up.

What led you to start covering?

As with most women of my age who were raised in mainline Protestant churches (I was Presbyterian), I had been taught to pass lightly over 1 Corinthians 11 with the understanding that “It was just cultural.” But in the winter of 2023, I was studying 1 Corinthians again and came to the end of the chapter where I was brought up short by the Spirit. I felt inspired to ask myself, “We take everything else Paul says about Christian worship seriously, so why the knee-jerk rejection of this?” That question was shortly followed by the thought: “I’m an evangelical. We’re supposed to take our Bible seriously.”

Not long after that, as I studied and prayed over it, I realized “It was just cultural” was the same argument that people use when claiming that Paul’s prohibition against homosexuality only applied to temple prostitutes and the abuse of slave boys.

The first head covering resources I found online were Roman Catholic, which I found interesting but not wholly applicable. Then I came up with a rather eclectic batch of more and less soundly reasoned blogs before finding the Head Covering Movement website, which impressed me with the rationality and thoroughness of its essays.

I can’t say that any particular reason for head covering impressed me more than others, beyond simple obedience to the instructions given in God’s Word.

What kind of reaction did you get at first from your church, family, and friends when they saw you in your covering? How did you respond? In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently, and why?

I received very little reaction, actually.

On Easter, the first time I was covered at the multi-site where I usually attend, one person asked (in the politest possible terms) if it was a tradition I’d grown up with. I answered briefly and simply that I’d been studying 1 Corinthians 11 and had concluded that I ought to obey it. Someone in the group of volunteers present mentioned having been loaned a veil on a visit to a Catholic church. Someone else commented on always having new hats for Easter as a child and then we all went about our work.

Since then any comments I’ve received have been positive – compliments about how good my headscarf looks with my outfit or how well having something on my head suits me.

Neither of the two pastors I regularly interact with has given any indication of having noticed that I’m covering religiously rather than just wearing something on my head that goes with my outfit.

As for my family, when I broached the matter with my husband he reacted positively to my reasoning and asked only that I never wear something that looked like an Islamic hijab – a request that I heartily agree with. I do make an effort to wear styles that he likes.

As for other family members, I have explained briefly and simply when people noticed and asked questions. I have also chosen my least obviously-religious coverings for extended family gatherings (which include non-Christian family members) since I do not consider it loving to sour the atmosphere of a gathering by provoking contention.

5) When do you use your covering?

My best understanding of Paul’s phrase “prayer and prophecy” is that it is intended to encompass all times of active engagement with God such as prayer, worship, study, teaching, counseling, and so on. Therefore, I believe that I only need to cover when involved in such active engagement with God. However, if I were to visit a church of a denomination that believes that the church space itself is sacred, then I would be willing to cover my head out of respect for their beliefs.

I consider it 100% valid to keep a cover handy in a purse, pocket, etc. and put it on only as needed. However, I find it most convenient to put a cover on in the morning when I get dressed and leave it on all day. I’m in the habit of making many brief, spontaneous prayers throughout the day and am simply not organized enough to always have a cover within arm’s reach.

I do keep a scarf on my nightstand – a light, flexible net scarf in a color I don’t particularly like. I use it during my bedtime and morning devotions. The main reason for choosing this particular scarf is that if I fall asleep with it on my head it breathes rather than making my head sweat. Also, if I don’t realize it’s on my head when I wake in the night and it falls on the bathroom floor, it’s washable. Because it’s a color I don’t like and rarely wear, it stays on the nightstand rather than getting taken into daily service.

What counsel can you give to women that do not cover out of fear?

We are called to be covered, not weird. Unless you happen to belong to a denomination that prescribes a particular type of cover (in which case you should probably consult your own elders for counsel), there is no need to wear a metaphorical neon sign on your head proclaiming, “Freaky head covering Christian here!!!” 😀

There are many forms of head covering that suit many different environments and style aesthetics. If you integrate your cover with your wardrobe in color, style, and general vibe, people who see you will think, “She looks well pulled-together” rather than “What’s that thing on her head?”

If you go to a stockings-and-heels sort of church, you’ll probably want to wear either a traditional church hat or an attractive, upscale scarf in a fabric that harmonizes with the rest of your outfit. If you go to a jeans and t-shirt church, you’ll probably do better with a bandana or a ballcap.

Of course, there are many possibilities between those extremes and we each have a personal style that we can consider when looking at our options. Headscarves work for me because I have a slightly boho, mildly “cottagecore” style and they harmonize with my layers of flowing skirts, shawls, ruanas, etc.

What would you say is the best and the most difficult aspect about head covering?

I like the way that adding a cover to an outfit (even a casual outfit) brings things together. I feel less stressed and more capable when I know that I look pulled-together and intentional rather than like I got dressed at random in the dark. It helps me avoid the temptation to lump around.

I don’t find any particular aspect of head covering difficult. Of the many, many, many aspects of living a disciplined, Christ-like, obedient life, this is one of the easiest for me. All I have to do is to add a cover of some type to my outfit when I get dressed in the morning. Compared to loving my enemies, covering is a real no-brainer.

What kind of covering(s) do you use? Where did you get them?

I have a few hats of various types, several wide headbands, and a net snood. However, I mainly use headscarves of different sizes and shapes.

I made some of the scarves myself. Sewing a hand-rolled hem is tedious but not difficult, and many tutorials are available on the internet.  I bought a few of them from Amazon, and found the vast majority of them in the bargain bins at various thrift stores.

My husband prefers the look of a triangular cover, so I preferentially look for those, but rectangular scarfs seem to be more available so I have more of those.

I’ve also knitted several wide “headband” covers and crocheted a bandana. In my opinion, it’s good to have a wide variety of options from simple bandanas and headbands to fancier items for formal use. However, I do tend to avoid wearing something too bright or too fancy in a situation where it would be a distraction.

I have a history of wearing a lot of hair ornaments and want to distinguish covers from those accessories. So for my own purposes I decided that my covers should be at least as large as my spread hand and positioned to cover the crown of my head.

Are there any practical head covering tips you have found useful which you would like to share with other ladies?

Hats (other than the most practical sort – like ballcaps, beanies, and sunhats) aren’t actually supposed to just sit on your head without some kind of fastening. Men’s hats do fit that way, but women’s hats should have combs sewn in, ribbon loops for bobby pins, elastics to go around your head, or some other such arrangement to fasten your hat to your hairstyle.

It may sound silly, but that was actually a revelation to me. I had really believed that there was something wrong with my head as I “couldn’t wear hats” because they didn’t stay on.

Second, there is no Bobby Pin Police squad counting your fasteners and criticizing you for using “too many.” Depending on your hairstyle, the particular sort of cover you’re wearing, and the precise shape of your skull, you might need a single pin in a strategic place, a pair of pins in the most critical places, or a whole array of pins spreading the weight and preventing slippage from different angles. It doesn’t matter, because the right number of pins is simply whatever number you need in order to get a firm hold that you can forget all day and not have to fuss over.

Third, matte-finish snap barrettes are the ultimate hold for slippery material. I’ve been getting them from the dollar store in an assortment of colors.

Finally, dare to be pretty. We are not called to be frumpy any more than we’re called to be weird. In a world where the choices for women’s fashion are frequently either “sexy” or “unisex” the choice to be feminine and pretty can be an act of righteous rebellion.

10) How did you hear about the Head Covering Movement?

I don’t remember whether the website came up in an internet search directly or if I found it linked from some other website/blog.

Would you like to share your story of how you came to believe in head covering? Tell us about it here.
Jessica Roldan
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