Dear Friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. Thirty years ago, when I first became a pastor, Mother’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. Can you guess why? Like all clergy back then, pastors could count on Mother’s Day for worship attendance that was higher than usual. Among ourselves we would say, “It’s like a second Easter,” since most moms made it clear to their children that the only gift they really wanted was to have their sons and daughters sitting next to them in church. Pews would be filled, from one end to the other, with members of a single family on Mother’s Day.
In those days, every mother received a carnation or, maybe, a small carnation corsage from their home church on Mother’s Day. At first, all the carnations were white because that was the color of “purity.” (Anyone else see a problem with that kind of language?) Later on, mothers whose moms had passed away received white corsages – a blossom and a bow – and those whose mothers were still living received pink carnations or maybe red. The church where I grew up, on the north side of Lowell, observed these customs with great scrupulosity. I mean, God help the usher who gave a mother whose mom was deceased a pink corsage. If you took Mother’s Day seriously, that mistake would not happen!

You can probably tell that I miss the Mother’s Day celebrations my home church used to look forward to. Nowadays, it is impossible for me to let Mother’s Day go by without giving our church’s moms – and all of our church’s women – a small gift. Some years, Sudbury UMC has distributed lip balm, or tiny tubes of hand lotion, or pocketbook packages of tissues, or something else. We usually print a gift tag in the office with a silly pun on one side and a Bible verse on the other. And then we ask the kids, or the Boy Scouts, or the ushers to distribute our gifts during the Children’s Time or the offering. Can you guess what this year’s gift will be? Please come this Sunday, May 14, and find out!

Speaking of Mother’s Day, I wonder how many of us realize that the holiday’s founder was a Methodist. Anna Jarvis admired her mother so much, she petitioned presidents and congressmen to set aside a special day to honor moms across the nation. Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna’s mother, must have been quite an activist, too. During the 1850s, she organized local mothers’ clubs to teach young women how to care for their kids, how to keep their homes clean and healthy and, eventually, how to advocate for the abolition of war. The loss of young boys during the Civil War, during which Ann cared for the wounded on both sides of her West Virginia home, convinced her that ending war was more than political. It was a health and safety issue. I wonder what she would say today about the proliferation of hand guns.

Anna Jarvis never married and never bore children. She devoted her life to the creation of Mother’s Day not for her own benefit, but as a tribute to her mother and the example she set. In 1908, for one of the first Mother’s Day celebrations, she bought 500 white carnations for the church where she grew up, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WV. (If 500 moms show up at Sudbury UMC this Sunday, we’ll have to seat everyone else in Hawes Hall!) After going to church with their moms in the morning, sons and daughters were urged to spend the afternoon at home writing a letter of appreciation to their mothers for all the sacrifices they could remember. Those handwritten letters soon became 10-cent greeting cards, which Anna Jarvis abhorred. Later, simple carnation corsages later became vases of flowers, fancy meals and, more recently, cash and gift cards. By the time she died in 1948, Anna Jarvis had disowned the holiday she created. She hated its commercialism and petitioned presidents and congressmen to wipe it off the calendar.

This Sunday, in honor of Anna Jarvis, let’s do Mother’s Day the way it was meant to be done!

See you in church,

Pastor Joel

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