Mothers Day alternatives in worship

It’s no secret that I don’t like secular holidays in church.

They raise the question, “How did this holiday become part of our story?” The implied answer is “Well, it’s not really, but we don’t have a clear way of saying yes or no to the dominant culture.”

And sometimes we must say no or else our religion becomes a subcontractor for anything that’s popular and respectable, whatever the source or meaning, and whatever the harm. And despite all the talk about radicalism, Unitarian Universalism — especially on its Unitarian site — is a deeply respectable and culture-driven religion.

The contortions to make something religious out of Mothers Day are astounding. On the one side, there’s the effort to make it a peace holiday as intended. Good luck with that. Or there’s the ever widening functional definition of motherhood, to include those who never had children or — I saw this at least once — are male. And then there’s the sometimes-seen rose distribution, which if people were being candid, I bet is as hated as it is loved.

Better to mention it — perhaps even have an event apart from worship — and move on. Or if there’s to be something liturgical for Mothers Day — and Fathers Day and Memorial Day, while we’re at it — let’s at least be honest and missional.

One could hold two brief services — before and after the main service —

  • One can be an honest lamentation about the real grief and sorrow that mothers have wrought. The abuse, neglect, favoritism, insults, humiliation, and premature parentification that their children still suffer. That kind of honest liturgy is — or should be — in our scope. There are lamentations that need a voice.
  • Another is an act of mourning for mothers who have died, and for mothers whose children have predeceased them. (Perhaps too those who hoped for children and never could have them.) A reliable, annual event — I’d also have a special All Souls service — can be a great blessing.

And these should be well promoted, to provide the kind of rare outlet that some might find too painful to otherwise admit. There’s something to be said for worshiping with strangers, and in both cases I’m thinking of several people who’s real-life religious needs are not being fulfilled around these situations.

I think this is something good and valuable and — dare I say — healing that we can provide, whether or not there’s a special cake and flowers during coffee hour.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Mother’s Day is obviously very much on people’s minds on Mother’s Day; it came up today in more than half of all conversations at coffee hour. Thus as a pastoral issue, I think it’s probably a good idea to address Mother’s Day during the worship service — the minister can mention it in the pastoral prayer, and it’s not too hard to come up with some kind of reference to it in the sermon — just the same as you’d refer to any other pastoral issue that affects many people in the congregation (the way ministers had to deal with bin Laden’s death, and always have to address the consumerization of Xmas, etc.).

    Here in the Palo Alto church, we have Flower Communion on Mother’s Day — that seems to work well. Another good Mother’s Day idea — one of our congregation’s peace activists got some Mother’s Day cards from Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice (, with quotes from Julia Ward Howe in them, and we gave them out to anyone who had forgotten to get a card for their mother — that made quite a few people very happy (and relieved!), and I think we’ll be doing that again next year.

    My $.02 worth.

  2. Not sure how this fits in… But I began avoiding the practice of bringing Mother’s Day into the church service, after 3 women at my previous rural church told me that they find the day very painfull. They had wanted to be mothers, but could not for various reasons. And so it was hard for them to see in celebration, something that they deeply and humanly desired, but were never able to bring about.

    I have yet to find a good way to balance out the celebration with the grief, without simply cancelling everything out in some zero-sum.

  3. It’s well done in my Church. My wife and daughter did some of the music so maybe I’m biased, but it’s been a good service the past few years it seems and explores all of the varioius emotions surrounding mothers and reactions to having, not having one, being one, not being one; and all the possible permutations.

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