This Sunday is, of course, Mother’s Day. (You didn’t forget, did you?) It is a great Hallmark holiday, but not one of the holy days of the church. Many churches celebrate the day, and for many mainline churches Mother’s Day is the second most-attended Sunday.
I quit observing Mother’s Day in church a long time ago. For one thing, during the last 20+ years, my congregations have been the type where people tended to go home to visit their mothers, so attendance was actually lower on that Sunday. My aversion, though, dates back to the days when I was a Methodist pastor. One small, rural congregation I served gave roses to the oldest mother and the mother with the most children. Determining this each year was always a little perilous. For one thing, the older women weren’t always forthcoming about their real ages. Then, one year, a woman in the church had recently given birth to her fifth child. That made her the winner … except she wasn’t married to the father. In fact, no one, including her, knew for certain who the father was.
Members of the congregation were incensed that we were going to recognize this woman. I tried to periodically inject compassion into the conversation, but otherwise remained silent like a good “preacher boy.” I understood their dilemma; after all, it undermined their traditional idea of family. The trouble was I was single and barely 20 at the time, and, as far as they were concerned, my opinion carried no weight. Finally, the matriarch of the church said definitively, “No church of mine is going to honor an illegitimate child.”
I got up, walked to the door of the classroom where we were meeting, and, in my best 20-year-old preacher voice, told her she needed to leave. When everyone looked at me with shock (her husband was a doctor and our biggest giver), I simply said that she could no longer be a member of our church, because we gathered every Sunday in the name of a child who, according to her definition, was illegitimate. Everybody got it, but I wasn’t through—I’ve never known when to leave well enough alone—so I added, “Even if Jesus had not been born of an unwed mother, we are not going to be the kind of church to label or discard people, especially innocent babies, and anyone who doesn’t understand that should go with her because that is not what we mean when we call ourselves Christian around here.”
What do you mean?
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal