Master of Arts
It is no small task to choose a topic that will hold enough interest to devote countless hours and hundreds of pages of reading and writing. I have found that topic in researching the tradition of the prayer covering in the Church of the Brethren. This practice piqued my curiosity because of the lack of available writing and discussion about it. For instance, the last time that Annual Meeting/Conference addressed the covering was 1925!
In my research about the practice I've continually been fascinated by how many personal stories surround the prayer covering. Nearly everyone, both women and men, have either a funny, touching, or painful story from their experience. The energy that the topic creates when it comes up in conversation with other Brethren continues to fuel my interest in the topic. While the covering is only a small part of my larger curiosity about Brethren practice and identity, I believe that it serves as a concrete example of how that identity has been, and continues to be, lived out in visible ways throughout our history.
Several of the most intriguing things I have found in my research include debates about whether women should cover at the time of their marriage or at the time of their baptism, since in early Brethren history marriage and baptism for women usually happened simultaneously. There were also many questions about the size, shape, and color of the covering, which may appear trivial at the surface, but point to deeper questions of visible identification among various Christian denominations and also denominational understandings of obedience and correct practice. Finally the most fascinating research discovery to me is examining Paul's directions in 1 Corinthians about covering, and learning about research that in the ancient world human hair was considered part of the reproductive system, therefore affecting Paul's commands concerning hair on both women and men.
My goals for this project are broader than a published thesis housed in several academic libraries and archives. My deep hope is that my work can be used as a practical starting point for a conversation about why current women members of the Church of the Brethren choose to, or not to, wear the prayer covering. I am attempting to provide background and source material to give life to a conversation about this practice, and to encourage the wider Church of the Brethren to put words to many of the practices that shape our identity.