Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate, but how?
Rev. Dr. Donna j. Mann
All too often, life divides us into haves and have-nots, making it known subtly. Even some worship committees question if remembering Mother’s Day is best communicated through carnations, Dedication and the Sacrament of Baptism.
Some denominations have attempted to open the day to Christian Family Sunday, while others remain with the traditional Mother’s Day. Considering that it is the most emotionally charged Sunday of the year for many families inside and outside the church, what we call it is not as important as what we do on it.
The story of Hannah, a childless and bereft woman who prays for a son, comes to mind. She was one of Elkanah’s wives; Peninnah, the other wife with many sons and daughters, shows little sympathy for Hannah’s empty arms (1 Samuel 1).
I credit a woman I’ll call Sally for bringing this story to mind. She wandered into the church nursery one morning, crying quietly into her knuckled fist and repeating, “It just isn’t fair.”
“Tell me again,” I ask, trying to get my face close enough to hear her words through broken sobs.
“I was sitting in the pew. It was hard enough for me to attend church this morning, Mother’s Day and all. Then, I hear the minister ask all the mothers to come forward for a white corsage. He’s smiling and nodding as women of all ages, some of my friends, go forward.”
She pauses, wipes her eyes and sighs. “I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there and started to shake. I thought everybody was looking at me. The memories of that little white casket still flood my mind like a raging river. I came this morning to remember my mother, not to be reminded that I’m not a mother.”
I put my arm around her, rock her as I would a child, and promise to be more sensitive to how the church celebrates this day.
The following year, I purposefully exchanged my Sunday in the Nursery with a friend and decided to stay in the sanctuary to worship with the congregation. A young woman attracts my attention. She sits quietly and watches the greeters give all the women a white carnation as they enter the sanctuary. I notice she has not pinned her carnation on her dress. (When I have lunch with her the next week and ask about Sunday, she tells me she could only think of the white carnation her husband had brought to the hospital the previous week when she miscarried for the third time.) I also notice two young brothers sitting close together, watching the women walk up the aisle with their carnations. They had buried their mother last week.
Later in the service, I watch loving parents present their babies and young children for dedication and baptism. I wonder if this has been a genuinely pastoral and worshipful Mother’s Day experience for the entire congregation.
I began to ask, “How do such important covenants in the life of a church and its membership, such as Dedications and Sacraments, end up on a secular day of celebration, one that prompts more business for the Hallmark card industry than attendance in church?” Perhaps it is because most people see this particular Sunday as a time of coming home to both the familiar sounds and scenes of their childhood and a space of nurture and memory. Just the words ‘Mother’s Day’ echoes motherhood and apple pie, hugs, family gatherings, and greeting cards with meaningful words that affirm the importance of relationship—with God and one another.
For this reason, a man I’ll call Joe was appalled that the minister should question his daughter’s choice of Sunday for his grandson’s baptism. “It’s a family day, for goodness sake. It’s what families do on Mother’s Day . . . they get together. Surely, you wouldn’t discourage families from coming to church to celebrate and give God thanks for a new life? Truly what is this church becoming . . . to turn away a child? Even Jesus reprimanded his disciples for doing the same thing. And this is his church.”
These heartfelt feelings caused me to rethink ways to minister more effectively on one of the most family-centred days in the year. As a young couple many years ago, my husband and I were among many who approached our minister to baptize on Mother’s Day, knowing our biological and church family would gather and circle us with loving support. We knew the sacrament surrounded by songs of joy, sacred words of scripture, and love would draw us closer to God and our church.
Only when we brought our two chosen children to the baptismal font in the early 80s did I think of their birth mothers and how they would feel if they were sitting in a congregation on Mother’s Day.
Much later, as a minister, I bring this same awareness to the elders, and we begin to think about other women in the congregation and community who might feel excluded on Mother’s Day. We discover women who choose not to be a mother for personal or financial reasons, feeling fulfilled in other achievements in life. Others concede the experience of motherhood due to physical problems, poor health or circumstances beyond their control, while many experience disappointment, guilt or a sense of failure.
Numerous women accept their gifts of ‘multiplying’ or creating in other areas of their life. The realization that tragedy snatches motherhood from some women, leaving them childless, accepting that some may have consented to abortion, causing them to walk through a valley of regret, increase our list. Then there are those who cannot celebrate motherhood due to tragic family situations such as abduction or particular blended family arrangements. And the initial concern of birth mothers of adopted children who surrender their opportunity of motherhood for the child’s benefit.
As a pastoral care team, we explore the possibilities of any of these women sitting in church during Mother’s Day morning worship and how the church’s pastoral care might be extended through more sensitive worship. We leave the challenge with the Worship Committee to plan Mother’s Day service so women, men and children can join together to remember their mothers. We begin to ask how we can come together as a community of faith with more compassion and what a more inclusive Sunday would look like. We agree that we all have someone to thank . . . we are here . . . so we’ve had a mother, or one we claim as ours
This focus left us with the reality that some recollections of their mother might be like scratches across their favourite CD. Some people keep working at forgiving or asking forgiveness and react differently to an invitation to remember their mother. One man reflected on the day he walked out of church because the minister asked people to speak their mother’s name aloud in a Prayer of Thanksgiving. A woman told me she counts on the minister and the Mother’s Day service every year to help her remember the good things in her relationship with her mother because they were few and far between. Every year, she grows closer to reconciliation with her mother, one who had let her down and crushed her spirit many times over the years . . . but it hadn’t happened yet. “This is the first year I could say, ‘Forgive her Father, for she knows not what she did.’ So I’m getting closer.”
After a recent Mother’s Day service, a man came to me and said, “I have intentionally stayed away from church on Mother’s Day for the past six years and almost didn’t come this morning. But I’m so glad I did because I can remember my mother today and move closer to reconciling with her. Ordinarily, there’d be proud parents with children at the front of the church. I love it any other Sunday, but not this Sunday, because it belongs to my mother. I have a lot of homework, and she’s been gone seven years today — Mother’s Day. Thank you for helping me through it.
Our worship committee concluded that the second Sunday of May is an appropriate time to remember our family and focus on our mother. Especially those snippets of grace that help us become who we are and, yes, even grace to remember those times we have yet to forgive. Everyone has someone to observe, whether we know or have mixed feelings about our mother. Maybe along with that, we will remember God’s love and give thanks for our lives. They also agree that carnations are a valid and caring way for people to remember their mothers when given that invitation. What would your worship committee decide if invited to explore an opportunity to plan a worship service on Mother’s Day?
(As of January 2010) The Rev. Dr. Mann is a retired clergy with the United Church of Canada and an Adjunct Professor in Women’s Studies at Trinity College & Seminary. She has just celebrated thirty years of ministry serving God in Alberta and Ontario. She is an award-winning author and active member of The Word Guild. She and Doug have been married for fifty-three years. They have five children and eleven grandchildren.
Published May 12th 2010 http://www.christianity.ca
Jane MacGillivray <http://www.facebook.com/people/Jane-MacGillivray/655061564> May 10
As a happy, mature single I so appreciate the sensitivity in this article. I am proud to say that my church acknowledged both mothers and all women yesterday with a token gift for each one of us. So, change in the church is afoot! I am doubly blessed by also having a wonderful mother!
Wendy NellesMay 10
Thank you for your sensitive and perceptive article, Donna. At my own church, a large contemporary multi-site church, Mother's Day et al is never mentioned, which is a huge relief to many of us. I attended my parents' church this year, a small, traditional, rural church -- and was glad that the pastor stressed that the carnations were for every woman there who had a mother... which of course included all of us.
NJ LindquistMay 10
Yes, very thoughtful and helpful.
Ruth Tatton-Coghill <http://www.facebook.com/people/Ruth-Tatton-Coghill/1368908413> May 10
Now I want to have Mothers Day all over again. Your article opens the mind to a much broader perspective and new possibilities. bravo!
Brian C. Austin <http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-C-Austin/100000871172586> May 10
Donna, this is a wonderful piece, thoughtful, sensitive and well articulated. It unquestionably deserves wider publication.
No doubt a topic that should be on every worship committe's adjenda.