Mothers Day. In many churches its celebrated as a church holiday when Pentecost, Trinity, or All Saints Day are not. In some, it’s the second highest attendance Sunday after Easter (I know it was in the churches I’ve pastored!). On May 8th, it will be rare that you don’t find a bulletin cover with the title “Mother’s Day” printed on the front.
Oh, how we love the day! In fact, so many churches have Mother’s Day routines executed with robot-like procession. Few can imagine doing it any other way.
But in this high exalted practice of Mother’s Day celebrated in churches of all sizes and flavors, I believe hurt occurs. Hurt occurs in practices like these 5 common Mother’s Day observances:
1. Presents: all mothers get a present. Usually a candle or inspirational book or maybe even some chocolate. Christian bookstores love this time of year– just check one out and see how vast the marketed merchandise is! But what about everyone else?
2. Pin a flower on the mothers. Many churches order a corsage for every mother in worship. Some churches even go as far as creating an elaborate pinning ceremony for each mother. But what about honoring the women who want to have biological children or adopt and can’t (for whatever reason)? What about women who seek to mother in more communal ways?
3. The Game of Youngest/ Oldest. The pastor asks the oldest living mother is identified then the youngest (by a series of questions that would slowly sit down more and more of crowd till only one mother in each category remains). Both the oldest and the youngest receive a prize. But what about the woman in the congregation who just loss her mother? What about the mother who just had a still birth?
4. Brunches and/or receptions. Mothers (or mothers-to- be) are invited to pancake breakfasts with pampering products on the table to take home. And/ or special cakes are ordered to honor the mothers during coffee hour and the mothers go first in line. But what about the aunties who love their dear ones just as much? What about that childless woman who babysits for everyone in the church and loves all the kids the like her own? What about that mother-to-be who’s adopting but can’t tell anyone in the church about her match yet?
5. Mother’s Day testimonies. The whole service turns into a testimony day. The pastor does not preach. Women with children are invited to share a presentation about how being a parent has taught about God, family, love, life, etc. But again what about the person whose mother just died? What about the woman longing to have a baby on her 4th IVF treatment?
I object to all of this hurt (no matter if it is unintentional) to say: isn’t life in the kingdom of God a calling to create a different kind of community?
A community that Jesus created when he said, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven are my brother and sister and mother.”
A community where the Holy Spirit has come to make us one in Christ Jesus…
A community called the church where we are called to bear one another’s burdens…
I believe so many of us in the church throw out the gospel part of our community when it comes to Mother’s Day. But how do we change? Here are two paths:
Choice 1: Avoid the observance all together. Worship as if it was any other week in Eastertide. (Few churches are this bold)
Choice 2: Make the church welcoming to all women and men on Mother’s Day. Consider things like this:
- Write inclusive liturgies. One year, I offered this call to worship as prayer to start the service. Many members commented to me about afterwards saying it felt inclusive and respectful of them as individuals.
- Design a service around the theme of God as Mother. Check out the metaphors of mothering in scriptures such as Isaiah 49 or Isaiah 66. Use the service as an opportunity to talk about God’s mothering us (something we all need no matter if we are with children or male or female).
- Celebrate all women. Invite women to share testimonies who are mothers without children. Invite men to share stories of strength about their mothers alive or not. Sing songs by women. Read scriptures about women. Incorporate special art by or about women.
If all else fails, be mindful. Be ye kind. Don’t go in the day blindly. Such self-awareness goes along way toward building a zone of compassion. And don’t our churches need to be more compassionate places especially on Mother’s Day?
Elizabeth Hagan is a Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington, DC area. She’s the author of a book about her experience with infertility due out with Chalice Press in October. You can follow her blog over at elizabethhagan.com. Subscribe for email updates about Elizabeth’s new book from Chalice Press at chalicepress.com.