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Mother’s Day – A Day to Celebrate, but How? 
Mother's Day can be a difficult time emotionally for many people. It is important for churches to approach it with sensitivity.

All too often life divides us into haves and the have-nots and makes it known in subtle ways. Even some worship committees struggle with the question if remembering Mother’s Day is best communicated through carnations, dedication and the sacrament of baptism.   

...we began to think about other women in the congregation and community who might feel excluded on Mother’s Day.

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 a woman, Hannah, childless and bereft, who prayed for a son, comes to mind. She was one of Elkanah’s wives, Peninnah being the other wife with many sons and daughters, shows little sympathy for Hannah's empty arms (see 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 asked, 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 come to church this morning, being Mother’s Day and all. Then, I heard the minister ask all the mothers to come forward for a white corsage. He was smiling and nodding as women of all ages – some my own friends – went forward.”

She paused, wiped her eyes and sighed. “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 flooded 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 and rocked her as I would a child and promised myself that I would be more sensitive how the church celebrated this day from now on.

The next 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 attracted my attention. She sat quietly and watched the greeters give all the women a white carnation as they entered the sanctuary. I noticed she had not pinned her carnation on her dress. (When I had lunch with her the next week and asked about Sunday, she told 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 noticed two young brothers sitting close together, watching the women walk up the aisle with their carnations. They had buried their mother the previous week.

Later in the service, I sat and watched loving parents present their babies and young children for dedication and baptism and wondered if this has been a truly 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 for church attendance? Perhaps because most people see this particular Sunday as a time of coming home to both the familiar sounds and scenes of their childhood and to a space of nurture and memory. Just the words “Mother’s Day” echo 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 centered 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 to our church.

It was only when we brought our two chosen children to the baptismal font in the early 80s that I thought 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 brought this same awareness to the elders and we began to think about other women in the congregation and community who might feel excluded on Mother’s Day. We discovered women who choose not to be a mother because of personal or financial reasons, feeling fulfilled in other achievements in life. There were others who conceded the experience of motherhood, due to physical problems, poor health or circumstances beyond their control, while many experienced disappointment, guilt or a sense of failure.

Numerous women accepted their gifts of “multiplying,” or creating in other areas of their life. Realization that tragedy snatches motherhood from a number of women, leaving them childless, accepting as well that some may have consented to abortion, leaving them in a valley of regret, increase our list. Then there were those, who due to tragic family situations such as abduction, or particular blended family arrangements could not celebrate their motherhood. And the initial concern of birth mothers of adopted children who surrendered their opportunity of motherhood for the child’s benefit.

We explored, as a pastoral care team, the possibilities of any of these women sitting in church during Mother’s Day morning worship and how pastoral care might be extended through more sensitive worship. We left 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 began 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 agreed that we all had someone to thank – after all, we are here – so we’ve obviously had a mother, or one we claimed as ours.

We were left with the reality that for some, recollections of their mother are like scratches across their favourite CD. Some people have to 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 was able to say, ‘Forgive her Father, for she knows not what she did.’ So I’m getting closer.”

A man came to me after a recent Mother’s Day service 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 today, I could remember my mother and move a little 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 on this Sunday, because it belongs to my mother. She and I still 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 came to the conclusion 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 the person we are and, yes, even grace to remember those times that we have yet to forgive. Every one of us 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?

Rev. Dr. Donna Mann is a retired clergy with the United Church of Canada and Adjunct professor in Women’s Studies, Trinity College & Seminary. She has just celebrated thirty years of ministry in 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. She can be reached at dmann@log.on.ca.

Originally published on Donna Mann’s website, May 2010.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2010 Christianity.ca.

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