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International Women’s Day or Mothering Sunday?

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I’ve had one of those moments. A moment when a question pops into your head for no reason and suddenly it makes perfect sense. A moment when you want to see if anyone else thinks it makes perfect sense as well.

So here goes: March 8th was International Women’s Day. According to the official website, IWD2015 represented “an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.”  

(For those asking, yes there is an International Men’s Day too, it’s November 19th)

On IWD I read great stories being shared on social media; stories of female achievement, struggle and triumph; stories like that of Emmeline Pankhurst, Harriet Tubman, scientists, astronauts and police officers. Many contributors paid tribute to the women in their family who had inspired them – mums, grandmothers, aunties, sisters. Even saints of the church, “those who had gone before us” were remembered.

Is it time that the Church switched to celebrating International Women’s Day rather than Mothering Sunday?

This year, Mothering Sunday is on March 15th, exactly a week after International Women’s Day. At this point I have to say: I KNOW that the origin of Mothering Sunday is to celebrate Mother Church and to return to the place of your baptism; I know that traditionally, servants were allowed home to visit their mothers; I KNOW that it is a great opportunity for churches to engage in mission and outreach and community work; I KNOW that it’s also a great opportunity to celebrate the divine feminine.

I know all that. But Mothering Sunday has also been completely hi-jacked by Mother’s Day and secular sentimentality. We are urged to celebrate Mums, the kids make cards in Sunday School and then there are the endless bouquets of flowers, given out to the ‘ladies’ at the end of the service (although to be fair, where I was last stationed, all the men got them too)

Even if we gallantly refuse to call it Mother’s Day, insist on calling it Mothering Sunday and focus on the divine feminine, I fear we are fighting a losing battle. And then there’s the pastoral nightmare that surrounds a service for a congregation which will possibly contain mums, mums-to-be, those who have lost children, those who can’t see their children, those who have never had children through choice or circumstance, those who are longing for children, going through IVF, seeking to adopt. Then there are the other painful experiences of members of the congregation – their mums have died, or are estranged, or have never been known, or there are ongoing relationships with mothers which cause hurt and pain. And there are plenty more categories, I’m sorry if I’ve missed a few.

There are plenty of people who avoid coming to church on Mothering Sunday for a whole heap of reasons. I preferred to widen out the theme so the service was about “God’s Love for Everyone” or “Made in God’s Image” but even with widened themes you can’t get away from the name of the day. And all those bloody posies.

Wouldn’t it just be better to celebrate International Women’s Day instead? Of course there’s another argument – women and men should be equally celebrated all year round, we shouldn’t need special days. But while issues like FGM, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic abuse, rape and the online trolling of women stlll exist, international events like this do make a difference. They enable voices to be heard and stories to be told. IWD celebrates strong women – some of them are mothers, some of them are not, but there is a much wider range of role models to choose from; more and more heroines to inspire us.

You may agree with this or think it’s a pile of knickers. But is it time for the Church to change?

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