Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothering Sunday

I always look forward to Mothering Sunday. It is not the English equivalent of the American "Mothers' Day", let's be clear. Oh no. In fact it has nothing to do with human mothers at all. It does in fact go back to the days under Henry VIII or some other evil autocrat, when for reasons that are unclear everybody had to live in the village next door. Then on Mothering Sunday you got the Sunday off to go back to see your Mother Church - ie the one in the village that you grew up in. And you'd hope to see your family.

Of course, this would only work for sister and brothers. You wouldn't see your parents, as they would have gone back to the village they grew up in, to find that their own parents, if they were still alive, had gone back to the villages where they grew up. So every year people would pointlessly scurry around the countryside, not seeing the people they were hoping to see, in a fever of unproductive relocation on which the Methodist Church later based its ministerial deployment strategy.

Naturally, when Cromwell took over, the whole thing was banned as a Popish superstition - that is, a superstition that was actually invented by the poet Alexander Pope - and everybody had to stay where they were, every Sunday, until the Industrial Revolution.

It was the Oxford Movement that reintroduced Mothering Sunday to England. Newman, on holiday in Morwenstow, was excited to discover that local vicar Mr Hawker had, under the influence of cocaine, invented the Harvest Festival. Newman wanted to invent a festival of his own - one that would enable him to wear the new Rose-coloured vestments that his own doting but increasingly colour-blind mother had knitted him. Hawker said to him, why not celebrate his mother's rather odd gift on the fourth Sunday in Lent - the date on which the parcel had arrived - by reintroducing Mothering Sunday? Newman went back to Oxford a changed man.

The re-invention of Mothering Sunday by Newman had the medium term effect of causing him to leave the Church of England, as the colour of the vestments was regarded as deeply suspicious in a country that had only recently made Oscar Wilde illegal. But after he left, it was realised by the liberal wing of the Anglican Church that in fact Newman's new tradition was a godsend. It enabled the sort of people who worried that others might take offence at things to worry that people might take offence. And those sorts of people love that. Specifically the people they were worried about offending included: 

  • People whose mothers had died
  • People who were adopted
  • People who were grown to full term in a test tube
  • People who never really liked their mothers
  • Men who said "how come there's not a Fathering Sunday?
  • People who couldn't be mothers
  • People who wouldn't be mothers
  • People who had any other mother-related issues
  • People who were offended that all the people above were offended
  • People who just like being offended.
  • People who were still stuck in the village next door under Cromwell's laws
And so began the tradition of explaining that Mothering Sunday is about the Church as mother. About God as our mother, in the more progressive congregations.
And about Jesus having had a mother, but not mentioning her too much, in churches of the more evangelical tradition. Yes, he had a mother, but there was nothing special about her. Except  for her being Jesus's mother. And being there at his birth - obviously - death and - presumably - immediately after the Resurrection. And being called "blessed" by an angel and all generations. Let's move along shall we? Nothing to see here.  After all, Jesus said that we're all his mother. But not in a sense that men are really women. Oh no. Tell you what, let's junk the rest of the sermon. It's getting a bit involved. Floribunda, please can you, Posy and the other children hand out the potted primroses? NOT TO FRANK! He's a man.

And so, as we approach this Mothering Sunday, we remember all the people that could be, are or aren't mothers. And we remember that, when all is said and done, it's important that we deliberately don't inadvertently offend anyone.

Keith had better have bought me a card and a bottle of gin, that's all I'm saying. Decent gin. Not that own-label rubbish I got last year.


  1. The issue isn't Mothering sunday, but the cult of honouring all earthly mothers as if they were or are, living saints. It's about the mush and sentimentality that is pushed at us in many services and sermons that gets my goat. I can deal with Mother Church and Mary as mother of Jesus, because that's part of my belief set. But the saintliness of every single mother is one leap too many.

    I don't doubt that most mothers are in fact saints, and thank God for them, but if you missed out on that, it's a hard fact to accept.

    My mother abandoned three of us in a locked dark room, while our father was working a night shift. He returned to find us in that state, and promptly had a breakdown. We ended up in care for 5 years.

    The only mother figures that I can recall are the stern Nuns and House Mothers that cared (if you can call it that) for us in the various homes we went through before ending in one place. Separated from mother AND siblings, not seeing our father for nearly three years.

    How more much more of abandonment can you be expected to take, and still honour the memory of a mother, who might well have loved and nurtured us, but left us all the same.

    Mothering Sunday is the day that I want to avoid, but don't. I go to pray for my lost mother, who I don't even know is alive or dead. For my sisters, particularly the younger one, who can't remember anything about her and has longed to meet her all of her life.

    For all abandoned children, that they will have found a mother figure to love and nurture them, even if not their birth mother.

  2. Actually I think there is a Father's Day. Devoutly imported from America in the cause of making yet more profits, as you can't get away with fobbing a man off with just a bunch of daffs or the smallest available box of Cadbury's.


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