A poetic blessing for the innovative prayer covering

By Irvin Heishman

Blessed be, O God,
the fearless innovation of Mattie Cunningham Dolby
head covered with Brethren prayer fashion
conformed to traditional Brethren style
first Black female Manchester College graduate
first Black Brethren woman preacher
Greek scholar
gentle courage against racism
“go worship with your own kind”
she served elsewhere, boldly prayer covered
the Ohio Springfield Church of the Brethren is dead.

Blessed be, O God
the fearless innovation of women today
heads covered in COVID fashion
a prayer covering of the lower jaw and the nose
conformed in love for their neighbors’ good
making granddaughters and nieces proud in
hitting the right combination of keys for online worship
knitting prayer shawls
prayer covering strings behind their ears, they serve
the church survives and thrives. Hallelujah.

Irvin Heishman was inspired by a photo of Martha (Mattie) Cunningham Dolby to write this poetic blessing.

She is one of those chosen by Brethren Press to be featured in its new Forerunners card game, where her cartoon-style likeness shows her wearing the Brethren prayer covering (www.brethren.org/bp/forerunners). The Forerunners biography for Mattie Dolby, 1878-1956:

“Mattie Dolby was born into a Brethren family, and she and her brother Joe were the first Black students enrolled in Manchester College. Mattie studied Bible there, and then in 1903 was sent by the denomination, along with James and Susan May, to establish a church among Blacks in Palestine, Arkansas, where she started a Sunday school for children. Later, she worked among Black congregations in southern Ohio, where she and her husband, Newton, were installed as deacons in the Frankfort congregation in 1907. Four years later, the congregation called Mattie to become a minister. Because of racial prejudice, Mattie and her family left the Church of the Brethren to minister in other denominations until her death.”

In a detailed history of her life and ministry, posted on a North Manchester history site, she is described as “humiliated by the church which nurtured her, yet forgiving, wise, encouraging others, compassionate, a constant student. A forerunner without fanfare.” Find the piece written by Elizabeth L. Hendrix with research from A. Ferne Baldwin (as archivist of Manchester College) at www.nmanchesterhistory.org/schools-cunningham.html.


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