To Wear a Bonnet, or Not?

When I first discovered Quakerism, by reading a book bought on the spur of the moment, I thought (being shy and timid - in those days!) that, although I hadn't known that there were people within "organized" religion who thought the things I thought and held to the things I held to, that I could be one of them in my heart and mind without actually attending meeting for worship - which would be putting myself on the line.

The situation appertained for four years, with me going about my business and trying to answer that of God in every one and maintain the peace witness which I had known was truth for many years.

Eventually, though, the Lord led me to attend meeting (a liberal one in my hometown - of which I had not been aware despite having walked and driven past the meeting house hundreds of times).  I joined the Society a year later and have made my home in it ever since.

I have mourned the passing of the plain language in London (later Britain) Yearly Meeting.  It has always seemed to me, that it had a great deal to recommend it; not only as a sign of classlessness but also as a witness to our faith and commitment.  I found this again in worshipping with Friends in Christ - where I realized that being part of a meeting which did not hesitate to refer to God and Jesus Christ as the Center was incredibly important - but now have come to another Rubicon.  Should I cross it, there is no going back.

Although male Friends in Goshen meeting and, at our yearly meetings, wear plain dress (including the historically controversial hat), there is no real equivalent for females.  I was directed to a website [We have tried to locate this site without success.] there to find, not exactly Quaker bonnets but bonnets of an Amish and Mennonite nature, together with shawls, plain dresses, even plain underwear!

I have been feeling a (possible) leading for a while, that I should attend General Meeting for Scotland (BYM) in a Quaker bonnet - as a form of witness, I suppose - but does my interest in doing this compromise me?  If I wear plain dress for this will it be a kind of novelty at that meeting?  Am I prepared to stand up and prophesy?  Can I say I am come from the Lord to call liberal Friends back to the Word?  Is that what the Lord is asking me to do?  Or am I just showing off, marking myself out.  Drawing attention to Me?  Being Quaint?

Do I always have to wear plain dress when I am doing the Lord's work?  Isn't the whole of my life under obedience to the Spirit of Christ?  Do I have to wear plain dress all the time then?  Will being thought odd interfere with the work the Lord has given me to do in the world?  Is plain dress a barrier or an opportunity or both?  Does plain dress also involve Amish stockings and a nightie (I like the nightie actually and may get one anyway!)?

More seriously, though, why would I want to wear a bonnet?  The text on the website talks about covering women's hair as modesty; only one's husband is to see it.

My feminist principles start screaming at this - but Quakers don't usually have a problem with feminism - or do they?  I have no idea, Friends; I continue to wrestle with it.

Constance Tonge
Reprinted from
The Call, 11-2006


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