The fourth Sunday of Lent is known to Christians in many parts of Europe as Mothering Sunday, and comes three weeks before Easter.
In times past, Mothering Sunday was observed as a day when people returned to their ‘Mother’ church. Traditionally, people worship at the church closest to where they live, but on this Sunday they went back to the main church or cathedral in the area. It also became a time for family reunions, when children who worked away from home returned for a visit.
Mothering Sunday is an important tradition that is still upheld today; a time to say thank you to God for his abundant blessings, as well as recognising God’s invitation and his promise that everyone is invited and welcome as an equal into the family of God.
It has also been recognised as an opportunity for children – whatever their age – to say thank you to their mother. I love the thought that in previous generations young people who were employed as household servants were given the day off in order to visit their families.
As the young people returned home, they would pick wild flowers on their way to place in church or give as a gift to their mothers as a thank you for their love and care. For many, it was the only time that the whole family had the opportunity to meet together.
A heart for family
Mothers’ Union members try to support and care for families right across the world. We are active in over 80 countries and have a membership of four million. Our Make a Mother’s Day Appeal links into Mothering Sunday: enabling a real change in women's lives; to become literate and numerate; to become an entrepreneur; to stand up as an equal. It also offers an opportunity to link into the worldwide church family. Over recent years Mothers’ Union has produced wonderful resources for churches to use on Mothering Sunday.
I became Mothers’ Union Worldwide President in January 2013 and, over the past five years, I have visited many dioceses in this privileged role. Many times I have been told that although Mothers’ Union resources are excellent: “on Mothering Sunday my church celebrates the Eucharist so sadly I cannot use many of the resources”.
I began praying that Mothers’ Union might somehow find a way to create a resource that would be of value and appreciated by many. I contacted Dr Jane Williams, writer, assistant dean and lecturer in systematic theology at St Mellitus College. I wondered if any of her students would be interested in producing both a creative and supportive liturgy. To my delight the answer was “Yes!”
I believe that the 2018 Mothers’ Union Mothering Sunday liturgy is uplifting, thoughtful, sensitive, moving and beautifully created. The theme for the liturgy is “Called to mother in a broken world”. It speaks of love breaking through the pain that can be experienced in families.
This Mothering Sunday I will go to church to say thank you once again – for Mother Church, Mother Earth and my earthly mother. I will also phone my mum to tell her just how much she means to me.
Sadly, I know only too well that not everyone has been as blessed as I have been.
It speaks of love breaking through the pain that can be experienced in families
The liturgy has been prepared by individuals who were, like me, able to say thank you. But within the group there were those for whom Mothering Sunday is a painful time, for reasons such as a difficult childhood, the pain of infertility, the pain of the loss of a child, the joy, sadness and complexity of adoption, singleness.
The group wanted to recognise, encompass and acknowledge each and every situation with honesty and compassion.
I pray that we may always thank God with a loving thankful heart – do join me in praying the liturgy’s Gathering Prayer:
Heavenly Father, we rejoice with thanks
for all those who have mothered us in our lives.
In a world that is broken and in need of your motherly love,
please use us to aid others as you do us in providing comfort, nurture, protection and support.
We ask that you grow us as carers to those who need us,
so that we might celebrate your goodness together
even through our own brokenness.