Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words A Mother’s Love by Cliff Reed
We come to give thanks for the mothers who bore us
and nurtured us, to celebrate the love and kindness
we received from them.
We come to give thanks for the children entrusted
to us for a little while. Holy One,
be with us in both the joy and the grief they bring.
We come to give thanks for this wonderful creation,
for our Mother the Earth, and for the glory of life
in which we share.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed
May the warmth of our chalice-flame be to us
a reminder of the warmth we knew
in our mother’s womb,
a promise of the warmth we seek in this
community of the way of love.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way, Amen
Reading From Generation to Generation by Antoine de St-Exupéry
In a house which becomes a home, one hands down and another takes up the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds. Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore we do not neglect the ceremonies of our passage: when we wed, when we die, and when we are blessed with a child, when we depart and when we return, when we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not the place of some official to hand to them their heritage. If others impart to our children our knowledge and ideals, they will lose all of us that is wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children, lest they drag out joyless lives, lest they allow treasures to be lost because they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords from generation to generation.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading The many names for Mother / Father / Parent by Janet H. Bowering
Blessed is the person who feeds and warms, washes, and comforts a child and soothes them in illness.
For they shall be called caregiver.
Blessed is the person who gives shelter and food, clothing, toys, books and tools.
For they shall be called provider.
Blessed is the person who opens doors in the child’s experience, who explains the puzzling and wonders at the mysterious.
For they shall be called teacher.
Blessed is the person who shields a child from that which will wither or warp, who protects a child from abuse and exploitation, who guards against bullying and scorn.
For they shall be called defender.
Blessed is the person who takes the time to listen, who is there for a child in the darkness, who is aware of the fears, who speaks the words of encouragement in moments of despair.
For they shall be called sustainer.
Blessed is the person who guides a child in the search for beauty, who encourages them at what is daunting, who steadies them as they explore new experiences, who fires their aspirations and their dreams.
For they shall be called inspirer.
Blessed are all these persons who help bring an infant along the many paths to maturity.
For in them is the future well-being of humanity.
Prayer For All Who Mother by Rev. Victoria Weinstein
We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.
The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice … but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs — no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
Who praised us for taking risks
Who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today. Amen
Reading Humanising Mum by Jane Rzepka (adapted)
On Mother’s Day, one expects to read about the wonder and glory of motherhood. While I can tell you from personal experience that we mothers like to be appreciated, I can also tell you that a rosy and sentimental Mother’s Day column always refers to mothers in some other family – the picture painted there is not me, not my mum, not my grandmothers.
In my family, mothers do not suffer any more than other mortals, nor are we particularly unsung. We complain when we trip over shoes on the living room floor, and we expect a little praise for carrying the daily Grand Accumulation at the bottom of the stairs up the aforementioned stairs.
We do not deserve or expect devotion from our children. We wanted to have children. It was our idea. If they come around from time to time when they are grown-ups, we are ever so glad. But if they live their lives as secure and independent souls, we value that.
Motherhood, in my family, is not always the most important job in the world. Some of us are actually good at it, some of us shuffle along and do our best, and a few are better off in other professions. We try to face that.
Mother’s Day is no time to romanticize parenthood – parenting is a down-to-earth process if ever there was one. So this Mother’s Day, let’s humanize Mum. Thank her for doing what she could, given all the dirty socks, thank her for loving you as well as she was able, and then, let her thank you for the privilege of being your mother.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Mother’s Day Prayer by Kathleen Rolenz (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
You’ve been a father and mother to us all
We enter into this time of stillness
With mixed emotions.
This is mother’s day–a day set aside to honour, celebrate, and in some cases, simply to reflect on those women who gave us birth.
Some of us come to this day with joy,
With strong and tender feelings
for the women who have earned the right to be called “mother.”
They not only gave us our lives, they are responsible for shaping our spirit.
They have fed us, played with us, nurtured us, listened to us.
They have given unselfishly for us. They have loved us unconditionally.
If our mothers are still living, we make the extra effort to stay in touch,
And find ways to give back a portion of the love which we have so abundantly received.
If our mothers have died, we take time to cherish our memories of them
Memories which may flood our eyes with bittersweet tears of longing.
We miss her…and we feel that loss even more acutely on this day,
While also being grateful for her strength, her wisdom and her beauty–
And the gifts of life which she has passed onto us.
For others, this day is not a time for celebration,
But rather, a time for reflection.
Perhaps we cannot bring ourselves to buy that Hallmark card,
The one that waxes poetically about a mother’s love, or her presence in our lives.
Rather, we may feel her absence, through death or indifference.
We may have complicated, difficult, unhappy associations with “mother.”
Instead, may we use this time to reflect on those who have mothered us.
The women in our lives who have shown their love for us,
Whether through motherhood or mentoring,
Those tough, gentle, truth-telling, loving, wise, whimsical women
Who have served as our teachers, our mentors, our guides, our friends.
And on this Mothering Sunday,
May we remember the Great Mother that sustains us,
Whose body is the very substance of our existence
The very ground we walk upon,
The very source of our being.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Mothering Sunday 2023
Mothering Sunday can be a tricky time for ministers, for any worship leader. When I first did a Mothering Sunday service, more than twenty years ago, having a loving mother myself, and being a happy mother, I was blissfully unaware of the pitfalls, and simply shared the joy I was feeling in my two young children. I wasn’t sufficiently aware of the fact that not everyone finds this day easy. Some people had or have difficult relationships with their mothers; others have lost a beloved parent. Some may have longed for children, yet have been unable to conceive, or to carry a child to term. Yet others have lost touch with a beloved child. If any of this applies to you, I am truly sorry, and hope that you have found something here today of consolation, or at least of understanding.
Each one of us, regardless of gender, can offer sensitive, mothering love to another. Libby Purves argues in her wonderful book, How Not To Be A Perfect Mother, which sustained me in my own parenting journey, that the very word ‘mother’ is a job-description that has little to do with gender. From the day your child is born, you, as a parent, are entirely responsible for his or her welfare. She lists the essentials, “Children have to be fed, clothed against the elements, conversed with a great deal, protected from evildoers and poisons, and given the chance to play and read and observe the adult world. They have to be educated, to take in the knowledge and wisdom their society has developed and encouraged to take it further as they grow up. They have to be loved and valued and allowed to bestow their own love on family and friends.”
For me, mothering, and parenting, is above all about love. Because becoming a parent (or acting in that role, which may later include looking after your own parents or a dear friend) is the most life-changing commitment anyone can make. I think it is only possible to make a half-way decent job of it if you love the person concerned and are willing to make their needs and desires a priority in your life. If you really think about it, this is also true of marriage and close friendship, as well as parenting – it’s all about being in relationship, about putting someone else before yourself, and not just looking after Number One.
Being a mother and being a father are two very different things. As Libby Purves explains: “All we can be certain of is that a father is not – repeat not – a duplicate mother — ‘mother’ [is] not so much a sex-linked word as a job description. Like accountant. Or MP, or doctor. Some fathers do indeed carry out a lot of mothering: cuddling to sleep, listening to worries about school, physical care, sorting out socks. But … fathering [is] a parallel – and distinctly different – function. … However much you switch and swap, there still seem to be two roles to play in a child’s life: one of them reassuring, one challenging and brave and gay. Perhaps, if there is any point at all in the concept of New Fatherhood, it is that couples feel more free to take turns at both.”
This is certainly how it has tended to work in our family.
As they grow, children’s needs change; our duty as parents to protect them is diluted by an equal duty to prepare them for the real world. To provide a safe bolt-hole for them is not only the least we can do; perhaps it is also the most any of us should do. As Kahlil Gibran reminds us in The Prophet, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. … You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
In my experience, one of the hardest things you can do as a parent is to learn to let go. You’ve had this precious child since it was a helpless new-born baby, unable to do anything for itself. It is hard to realise that your baby is now a reasonably competent adult, who is quite capable of sorting their own life out and making their own decisions. Libby Purves again sums up this internal conflict beautifully, “You see even more clearly that although you long to be a strong protecting wall, the only way to do it is to become a jailer … to weigh a theoretical danger against an overwhelming love is the hardest thing in the world. Mothers – and a few fathers – will always want to protect their children a little too much; the saving, balancing factor is that the children themselves resist it so fiercely.”
“To weigh a theoretical danger against an overwhelming love is the hardest thing in the world.” Yes. This applies whenever we love “overwhelmingly”, whether the person we love is our child, our partner, or our parent. Love is about caring infinitely for somebody, yet not smothering them with our love, but standing back and letting them make their own decisions. But also about being around to pick up the pieces, should things go wrong.
I like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s take on the responsibilities of parenting, which we heard as our first reading, very much. The idea that “In a house which becomes a home, one hands down and another takes up the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds.” Because, as he reminds us, “We live, not by things, but by the meanings of things.” So one of the most important things we can do as parents is to “transmit the passwords” from generation to generation, so that our children can grow up into adults who are emotionally and spiritually literate and are in a position to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
I believe that mothering, that parenting, of whatever kind, is the most important job in the world. All of us need somebody we can depend on to love us unconditionally. As Dave Tomlinson writes in How to be a bad Christian, “Sometimes love is really hard work; on occasions it’s seemingly impossible. So it helps to remind ourselves that love isn’t primarily an emotion, but a choice, an act of the will, a decision to work for the well-being of the other person, even when it means sacrificing our own well-being. Love is not about pink fluffy feelings. It isn’t even necessarily dependent on liking the other person. Jesus told his listeners that there are only two laws that matter. If these are followed, the rest can be forgotten. The first is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself.”
He continues: “The heart of Christ’s message was the love of God. He brought to ordinary people – downtrodden by ruthless rulers – the sense of their belovedness. Each person Jesus touched knew, perhaps for the first time, that their life mattered; that they were loved and cherished.”
I cannot believe that he would have been able to do this, had he not experienced this kind of love for himself, growing up. So I think that the most we can do for anyone we care for is what Mary did for her son, to love and cherish them, so that they know they are beloved. So that they in their turn can go on to love others, as Jesus did. As we do, the best that we can.
And the sort of unconditional loving that the best kind of parents do, is something which we can also offer to others, who are not related to us by blood. Having been in spiritual direction for the last twelve years, I have hugely appreciated the unconditional love offered by my two directors, one a female Unitarian Universalist, the other a male Anglican. They have been with me where I am, have listened to my joys and sorrows, and their support and mentoring have enabled me to grow, both spiritually and as a person. I value my relationships with them enormously. I am now a spiritual director myself, and try to offer that unconditional love, that wholehearted listening, to my directees.
In our loving, let us strive to do the very best that we can. And today, as the war in the Ukraine roars on, and the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have taken their sad toll of human life, with families being forced to flee from their homes with the minimum of possessions, in fear of their lives, let us hold the mothers, fathers and children of all human and natural disasters in our hearts and resolve to do all we can to alleviate their suffering. Knowing that the parents, like us, would do anything to protect and save their children from suffering. Let us open our hearts and our country to them.
May it be so, Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we honour those who have mothered us
By loving each other well in our turn.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley