A Letter To The Church On Mother's Day
One night a couple years ago, I was in the middle of our bedtime saga—trying to get dinner put away and my twin toddlers wrestled into pajamas so we could begin the battle that would end, inevitably, with me sitting on the floor between two wiggly toddler bodies, a hand on each back, patting slowly while the white noise machine and the Moana soundtrack drowned out every thought.
I was marching my troops towards the bathroom, a slimy kid under each arm, when I heard my phone buzz on the table. It was from my pastor.
“Would you like to write a mother’s day prayer for the service tomorrow?”
Mother’s Day. Already?
I winced, thinking of the card I hadn’t even managed to get sent off to my own mother. A toddler wriggled free as I dashed off a quick “Sure! I’d love to!” Because I did want to. Because I grew up in a church that barred women from speaking from the pulpit. Because even though this church didn’t restrict female voices, we rarely heard from them. Because our church had a reputation for caring for women and families, but only because young mothers did the lion’s share of the caregiving for the community. Because I had strong opinions about all of it.
The dinner dishes would have to wait. Once the kids were finally unconscious, I dragged myself to the couch, staying up way too late attempting to capture the breadth of emotions women experience on this celebratory yet difficult day.
The next morning I reversed the routine of the previous night—fed the toddlers, cleaned them up, changed diapers, dressed them in “church clothes” and herded them away from the breakfast mess out the back door and into car seats. I was the nursery volunteer, again (sigh), so I tracked down my pastor, put my piece on the podium, and resumed my place in the back room greeting families and wiping noses.
When it was time, I slipped out, snuck in a side door, and stepped up to the podium to offer a blessing for all who mourn, all who long, all who delight on Mother’s Day. I brought myself to tears, eyes blurred as I read the final lines. Then I could hear toddler wails wafting in through the open sanctuary doors, snapping me back to the present and drawing me back to my post.
Afterward as I chased my kids through the crowd I was stopped over and over again by women telling me that they they felt heard, their grief remembered, their longings understood, their hopes validated. I wish I could have stopped and hugged and cried and remembered with all of them.
Y’all. We NEED more recognition of the female experience from the pulpit.
Five minutes, one Sunday of the year, is not enough.
Protestant church spaces are so masculine. Sharp angles form the space, loud repetitive music drowns out any inner thoughts, questions, doubts, or desires. For most of us, men stand at the pulpit and behind the guitar or piano. They run the sound system and handle the finances and run the church lay leadership.
Churches need to do a better job of centering women all the time, but especially on the day set aside to honor them. Let us tell our stories. Let us share our art, our music, our movement. Let us lead and guide and teach and reshape your imagination for God.
Support us, feed our families, PAY US, make it possible for us to do the work you cannot. We know what to do when a new mom comes down with mastitis. We know how to mobilize a meal train after a diagnosis.
We have been in the margins listening, keeping stories, holding pain for our community. We are already pastoring, feeding, guiding, supporting and counseling “your” flock. It’s time to step down, step back, and clear the way for women.
And volunteer for the damn nursery.
A Mother’s Day prayer, adapted from one originally posted by Pilgrimage UCC:
Mother God, Spirit, friend,
It’s Mother’s Day. For many of us, this day brings a rush of emotions and memories that can be hard to process or share with others.
Some of us feel gratitude: for the excellent mothering we have received–from birth mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, and mentors. For the years of kindness and patience and wisdom and sacrificial love we have been gifted, we are so humbled. Bless all who feel grateful today, God.
Some of us feel deep joy: the new mothers, the grandmothers, those who have been given another year with an aging mother, the mentors and friends who revel in giving love. Some of us feel joy for technological advances like in vitro fertilization and for processes like adoption and foster parenting. Some of the mothers among us feel great joy because we love our children so much and are so very proud of them. Bless all who feel joy today, God.
Some of us feel guilt today: for not being the best mother we could be, for not being the best daughter or son we could be, for something we can’t even name. For all who feel guilty today, God, ease the weight of their guilt. Surround them with your grace. Remind them they are loved.
Some of us are angry today: because we didn’t get the mothering we needed, because our children don’t always appreciate what we do for them, because we feel called to be mothers, but our bodies or circumstances have prevented that from happening. For those who are angry, God, help us learn from our anger, to understand the hurt that causes it, and to feel heard and understood by our community.
Some of us feel sad today: sad because we never had a mother, or because our mother could not love us the way we needed, or because dementia is taking our mother from us one memory at a time. Some of us are sad because our mothers are no longer here, or because they continue to hurt us, or because they are estranged from us. Some of the mothers among us are sad because they have lost their children in one way or another. And some women who aren’t able to have children feel the weight of sadness and loss. Holy One, please comfort all who come to this day with sadness.
Some of us—women who have not been called to be mothers— often feel on the outside of church culture which can focus too much, at times, on families and not enough on those of us on a different path. Bless them, God. Affirm their decision not to have children. Bless all the ways they have given and are giving the best of themselves to others by means other than parenting.
In the quiet, Holy One, surround us with your love and care as we share with you all our feelings—all our joys, all our concerns, all of you. Holy One, some of us call you Father; some of us call you Mother; and some of us don’t call you anything because we’re so confused about you most of the time.
Thank you for answering our prayers—no matter where we are on our journey of faith. Teach us how to love each other well, today and every day.
Julianne Vantland is a social worker turned freelance copywriter and blogger who explores the intersection of faith deconstruction, parenthood, mental health, and embodiment. She is a voracious reader and recovering perfectionist who feels most at home in the kitchen and loves the way food gathers friends around her kitchen table. Julianne lives with her husband Drew and five year old twins Rowan and Evelyn in beautiful Lexington, KY. Her writing can be found at juliannevantland.com.