The high holy day of Mother's Day

One of the things that unites readers and reporters is that we are writing or reading news because we're curious about the world around us. USA Today runs a story about something quite common -- the celebration of Mother's Day -- and yet I found it interesting because it satiates some of that curiosity I have about Mother's Day. I don't really celebrate Mother's Day. I keep in contact with and show appreciation for my mother throughout the year. And my own children and husband could not be more appreciative of me, so the day just doesn't do much for me. It's also not a part of the Lutheran liturgical calendar and so we're more likely to talk motherhood on those days associated with Mary, Jesus' mother, than we are on Mother's Day. We are likely to get a mention of the day in the prayers, it's just not going to derail the appointed readings for the day.

This story in USA Today is about people who and congregations that celebrate Mother's Day. Written by Godbeat pro Cathy Lynn Grossman, here's the lede:

Hold the chocolate and flowers. Hold the brunch reservations. What mom may really want for Mother's Day is for the whole gang to go to church first.

A new survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors finds Mother's Day ranks right after Easter and Christmas in peak church attendance.

Father's Day, however, is near the bottom of the poll although both holidays were founded as church events more than a century ago.

There may be something to this. Not two minutes before I read this article, a friend of mine reported on Facebook, "Sometimes my six year-old wild child is sweet and so very insightful. I just overheard him whisper to his brother, 'I have the perfect Mothers Day gift for mom. Let's be on time for Mass tomorrow!'" In the article, we get more specifics about how high of a holy day Mother's Day is for many American Protestants, with fully 59 percent ranking it as one of the top-three days for attendance throughout the year.

Grossman compares how Mother's Day and Father's Day are celebrated and some of the reasons why Mother's Day may win out:

Family dynamics make a difference, too. Dads may be church-averse, but moms have clout on certain days.

"Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day have become the three days of male holy obligation when their wives and mothers are able to guilt them into the pews," says David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church.

This peaks like a candy kiss on Mother's Day when "pastors tend to gush over women in their sermons," Murrow says.

"But on Father's day, men get a 'straighten up' lecture: 'Dad, get right with God, reconcile with your kids,' etc. You would never hear any suggestion on Mother's Day that women could improve on their relationships," Murrow says.

I love these quotes but this in no way matches anything like you might hear at any Lutheran church I've attended. Another pastor backs up Murrow's claim.

We learn that smaller churches with attendance of fewer than 40 people are particularly fond of Mother's Day. We get some nice color, including this bit about Nashville's First Wesleyan:

Pastor David Gould, 42, says it's an inner-city congregation, "where the mothers and grandmothers are the fixture of the community. Our numbers jump up with folks who will come with their moms to honor them this Sunday, even if they go to a different, bigger church other Sundays.

"Most people say their spiritual life and foundation comes from their mother," Gould says.

Pastor Geoffrey Mitchell, 36, is counting on those motivations. He's picked this Mother's Day for the debut worship service for a new Disciples of Christ congregation, Big Life Community Church in Oswego, Ill.

His reasons are both pragmatic and spiritual.

It's the ideal day for attracting the husbands and the 20-something kids of moms in their 50s, the two demographics with the lowest church attendance, Mitchell says.

Fascinating! Mitchell goes on to say his sermon theme will begin with his own mother and her Christian faith. Again, I don't want to sound like that New York Times anthropologist, but this is all very different from the way sermons are done in my tradition.

The article says that Mitchell's approach "echoes the original honoree of the first official Mother's Day: Anna Reeves Jarvis, who devoted herself to improving the health of women and families in the 1850s."

She overcame many obstacles in her zeal to do good works, including the Civil War itself. We get a nice history of Mother's Day and how it was first marked on May 10, 1908 at a Methodist church. It became a political cause and exploded nationwide. Jarvis' daughter had hoped it would be a day for prayer and personal time with mothers, not a commercial holiday. She fought that commercialization for years. There are some interesting stories about her efforts and how they failed.

In 1909, a woman launched Father's Day in honor of her devoted dad, and by 1924 it became a nationwide cause as well.

The article includes a sidebar with information about how much more Americans spend on their mothers than on their fathers. And on what they buy. I was surprised to find out that, according to the cited research, only half celebrate the holiday with gifts for their mothers. I would have suspected it to be much higher.

Anyway, the article is full of information of interest to the USA Today audience. And this isn't a criticism so much as just a random thought, but for many of my friends and acquaintances Mother's Day is a day of sadness. Whether it's because they had bad mothers or they themselves weren't great mothers, because they're infertile or lost a child to miscarriage, because they've never had the opportunity to get married and have children, or because their own children aren't as appreciative as they wish, this day can be rough for many women.

One of the things I have seen done at Lutheran congregations, and I'm sure this is done elsewhere as well, is handing out flowers to the mothers or to the women of the congregation. It can be difficult for those women who are suffering with infertility or other pains associated with motherhood. I would love to know if congregations are sensitive to this problem and what they do to mitigate that pain for the women in their congregation.

In other treatment of Mother's Day, I thought this "Got News" type piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times about forced sterilization and eugenics programs was brutal and beautifully done.

At the other end of the spectrum was this Washington Post "news" item about the "cult" of motherhood in Mexico. I'm not sure if the smarmy piece is more offensive to Mexicans or Americans but it was just surprisingly negative and shallow for a piece on motherhood. But very heavy on stereotypes, if you're into that.

Let us know if you see any good stories that incorporate religion and motherhood.

(Mary and Jesus statue photo via Shutterstock)

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