We asked members of the Learning Lab, “If your congregation acknowledges Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, how are you sensitive to complicated family relationships or sensitive to those with fertility struggles?”
One response is that these are non-religious holidays, fraught with complications, so we do not acknowledge them.
But many of us lead congregations with beloved traditions, some of them tied to cultural practices especially in Latinx or African descent congregations. One leader admitted that in his congregation, Mother’s Day is the second most important Sunday of the year, after Easter. Yet he still wants to find ways to be sensitive to all the emotions it raises for different people.
Here are some of the Learning Lab participants’ best ideas to acknowledge parents, with sensitivity:
Begin with an acknowledgment that these days touch each person differently. Name those situations that make these days difficult: the loss of a child or a parent, neglect by a parent or child, abusive or codependent relationships, those abandoned or unable to have children. Then, give thanks for those who have stood in the gap for us, those who have cared deeply for us, those who have taught us by example to love—this group may or may include a parent.
Use a denominational resources, poems or litanies written with the aim of being inclusive. We value explicitly naming in prayers or liturgy how families are formed by foster care, adoption, surrogacy or blended families. Name both the joys and heartbreak of these ways of relating and give thanks for caregivers.
Use the offering time. A leader suggests that both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are excellent occasions to offer an honorarium to a children’s home in celebration of all in attendance.
Consider Biblical sources. We can lift up Biblical stories related to the roles of parents. We can also use Biblical accounts of God’s parenting behaviors.
We can phase out anything that can feel like a competition. For example, applauding the family with the most children, the oldest mother, or so on. But we can invite people to share their stories, even photos, especially in the online format.
One leader shared this specific example:
On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we ask three moms or dads to share their story. I usually ask a new parent, a parent of teenagers, and a grandparent to share how God has worked in their lives as parents. These brief testimonies are not plastic or churchy. They are typically gritty and real and cover a breadth of experiences. We use the rest of the service, particularly the pastoral prayer, to address both the joys and pain related to parenthood. I don’t preach that day. I began this approach ten years ago, and our people are blessed and look forward to it each year.
Does your congregation have traditions that need to be re-examined? Join the discussion in the Learning Lab.
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