Dear Church,

I love you. I want to say that right from the start. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t bother writing about this. I would be content to let the day pass and the pain, mixed messages, discomfort that so many of your sisters and brothers feel about this day could be overlooked. But, I love you and I really love those sisters and brothers. And I know that the beautiful breadth and depth of this church means that we can handle hard conversations.

So, let’s delve in.

Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day, as most people call it, is a real pain in the proverbial butt of the Church. It is a pain because people have begun to wake up to the complexities around the day. In the dark ages of my youth, it was a day when children were forced to hand out posies of flowers to their mother. Then they had to hand them out to any woman since it is apparently difficult to discern who has procreated as they don’t wear badges or uniforms.

Apart from the clear discomfort from my youth, I didn’t really give Mother’s Day much thought. I am terribly disorganised so am usually scrambling around to find an appropriate card and gift for my own mother. Infertility burst into my life and provided a crash course in how awful this day can be. Sitting on a cold, hard pew as a child looks sceptically at me as to whether they should give me a bunch of already wilting daffodils is not how I like to spend my Sundays. Trying hard not to let the impending tears flow as motherhood is lauded and elevated during the special sermon about how great women (who are mothers) are.

It became the one Sunday you could be assured that I would not be in church.

But, times they are a changin’!

Many of you who follow our blog, and are a part of the Saltwater and Honey community, know that Lizzie and her friend Sonya created a Mother’s Day Runaways service. It’s an amazing resource and gift to the Church. It encourages church leaders to make and hold a space for those who would avoid going to church on Mothering Sunday at all costs. It’s for the childless, the grieving, the orphans, the estranged. There are so many people hurting. Holding that space is sacred.

Now, hear me out Church, what if we didn’t need a separate space to be held? What if we didn’t need another service? What if we could solve the Mothering Sunday conundrum and make that one space a place of inclusivity and love? A place where the grieving and the rejoicing can sit side by side and both feel seen. Both feel valued.

I think it is possible. I think we have lost our way a little and need to come back. Not necessarily back to the origins of Mothering Sunday (if you’re interested, you can find out more here), although I’m interested in finding out more about how Simnel cake fits into the story, but back to the fellowship and flourishing that the church can provide.

I was talking to a friend about Mothering Sunday and how I simply wish we didn’t celebrate it in the Church. It won’t stop the day happening. It won’t stop mothers being celebrated. It won’t stop a lot of money being spent on cards and presents so we don’t need to worry about the economy suffering. As I stood on my soap box and waxed lyrical about how tired I was of trying to convince people that the Church is floundering, she gently pointed out that for some women, it is the only day of the year when they receive flowers. It is the only day where women are centred in the telling of God’s story at church.

And herein, I think, lies the problem. How do we value women? Is part of the tight grip on keeping Mother’s Day a day to celebrate the mums, related to the fact that so many women, and perhaps particularly mums, do not feel appreciated or valued? I think we have a weird relationship with motherhood. We have made an idol of it, in that it is seen as the absolute pinnacle of womanhood, and simultaneously undervalued, overlooked and minimised the woman who have that role. In our idolisation of motherhood, we ostracise the women in our churches who do not hold the title of mother. We can inadvertently judge the daughters estranged from their mothers, the mothers estranged from their children, the mother who has no child to hold, the single woman who desperately wanted to build a family with a partner and, the single mother who is so tired of juggling so much.

How do we solve this conundrum? We ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Here are some to start us off:

What are you celebrating on Mothering Sunday and why?

Do the women in your church feel valued? How do you show this?

When do you celebrate and affirm women?

Do you use feminine terms to talk about God? If not, why not?

How do you hold space for the grieving, the infertile, the hopeless, the broken throughout the year?

What do you mean by ‘family’? Do you affirm the many different contexts people may find themselves in?

What challenges do you fear around doing Mothering Sunday differently?

Oh church, I know we can do this better. So, let’s deep dive into the messiness of this topic. Let’s acknowledge the complexities and let’s figure out how we can be a safe space every Sunday. And if in doubt, use the resources available to you, talk to each other about where it is difficult and name the challenges.

We can do this!

Love Sheila