Entrance music – Selection of reflective music
Count all the ways you’re beautiful;
Your soul and your spirit,
Your brilliant body
And all the wonder within it.
Your heart full of love,
Your mind full of care,
Your eyes full of awe,
Your lungs full of air.
Your chest full of pride,
Your muscles full of strength,
Your brain full of questions,
Your compassion, immense.
Your hands that can comfort,
Your words that can soothe,
Your conscience that roots you
In the good, right and true.
You are a miracle,
Unique through and through.
So count the ways you’re beautiful,
And always be proud of you.
That was a poem written by Ms Moem, and of all the readings I found when searching for one for this morning’s service, I liked this one the most. Because I think it’s fitting for both today’s special occasion, and for the occasion we celebrated last week: International Women’s Day.
So, good morning, everyone. I’d like to extend to you all the very warmest of welcomes as we gather here this Sunday in our humble little chapel. I’d like to wish you all a very happy Mothers’ Day. Whether you’re a mother to one child, or many. Whether you’re a mother to a furry companion. Whether you’re a mother to someone, without necessarily having the bond of blood to connect you. Whether your mother is no longer with in person; whether you prefer not to think about mothers or motherhood. You are welcome in this space. This space of reflection and contemplation. This space of humility and vulnerability.
As you walked through the doors this morning, you entered a sanctuary. A sanctuary where you are safe to be yourself. A sanctuary where, no matter what joys, sorrows or concerns you brought with you, the warmth of our welcome remains constant.
Welcome to those familiar faces, and to those new faces, and to those who cannot be with us here this morning but are with us in our thoughts. Welcome to your feelings of happiness and hope. Welcome to your worries, concerns, and anxieties. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you believe, no matter what accompanies you this morning: you are welcome.
As is customary to our denomination of Unitarianism, I would like to light the flame of our chalice, the symbol of our movement. And as I do, I’d like to read some words from Claudene Oliva:
We light this chalice for mothers and mothering;
to celebrate those who have taken on the task of nurturing a young one-baby, child, or youth-into adulthood;
to celebrate those who have nourished the light of truth and compassion in growing minds and hearts;
to celebrate those who have committed time, money, energy to the growth of others in this world.
We light this chalice to celebrate and hold dear this flame of love.
So, again, I’d like to wish you a good morning as we gather here on this early spring morning. And, as we begin our time together, I’d like to invite you to just take a moment to sit in your chairs and relax. Take a deep breath and notice the movement of your chest as you inhale, and then gently exhale. Focus on the sensations you feel as the air passes through your nose, and then out again through your mouth. Feel the contact your body is making with the chair under you. Take note of the slight imperfections in the cushioning, or the wonky legs that mean you find yourself rocking slightly, from back to front. Listen. Listen to sound of the traffic going by outside, as people live their lives. Listen to the voices of people walking past. Listen, if you can, to the seagulls. Just take 30 seconds of quiet to think about what brought you here this morning. And if you’d like to, I invite you to use the post-it note on your seat, to write down any thoughts you may have. It could be anything, from a worry about a project at work, to thinking about what’s for tea tonight. Again, please only write something if you feel so compelled.
Now, in your own time, bring yourself back into the room.
I would like to invite you to listen to, or join in with if you wish, our first hymn of the day, number 141 in your purple hymn book: She Comes with Mother’s Kindnesses.
Hymn 1 – Purple Book 141
Well, as I mentioned at the start of this morning’s service, today is Mother’s Day. A day where we all come together to think about and celebrate all the mothers in this world. Whether you’re celebrating your own mother, or you are yourself being celebrated, or you’re remembering, Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to take pause and show gratitude to that special someone who has played an integral part in your life and making you the person you are today. As I’ll come onto a bit later on, that person doesn’t strictly have to be your mother. But while we hold in our thoughts the person we’d like to thank today, I have a story to share with you.
It starts with a wedding, a boy and a girl standing at the altar. They said, “I do” and it seemed so simple. Years later when they thought about having children they said, “we will” and thought it would be the same. Only it wasn’t. Instead of picking out pink or blue onesies, they stared month after month at single pink lines on pregnancy tests.
There were tears and prayers, moments of anger and frustration, loss and a little one that slipped to heaven before even a “hello” on earth. They wondered what family would look like for them, if maybe they had done something wrong or had been disqualified.
Then one night she watched a special on television about foster kids who age out of the system, who are told at eighteen, “have a nice life.” And she wondered who would cheer for them at their college graduation, walk them down the aisle, rock their babies, who they would call when they lost a job or just had a bad day. “That’s not okay,” she said, “Not okay at all.”
In the meantime, God showed her that she didn’t have to be a physical mother to still be a mum. In Genesis, Eve is called “the mother of all living.” All women are mothers, she discovered, because all women bring life into the world in some way. So, she birthed books and her friends threw her a book shower. She got to mother women all over the world with her words. She started to heal but there was still a place deep inside saved for someone. She prayed for her child who was out there somewhere without knowing a name or face.
Years went by and she was invited to a banquet for a charity that supports girls who age out of the foster system or would otherwise be homeless. She met a twenty-year-old young woman that night and she knew almost right away, “This is my daughter.” Her husband agreed. It took time. There were lunches and conversations and hugs and misunderstandings and prayers and they did the awkward dance of becoming family until they knew it by heart. One day that girl moved into their guest bedroom. Took their last name. Called them “Mum and Dad.”
Later, the girl met a boy and her Dad walked her down the aisle in a white dress. She and the groom said “I do” too.
More time passed and last autumn, the girl called home, emotion in her voice. “Mum, I’m pregnant,” she said. I’m going to be a Grandma, mum thought. The following week, she found herself sitting next to her daughter in another banquet for the same charity where they had met. She leaned over and placed her hand on her daughter’s tummy. She felt a flutter, her granddaughter saying “hello” for the first time.
Her eyes filled with tears. She thought of her husband and on their wedding day, all those pink lines, meeting their daughter and becoming a family, her wedding day too and the moment she knew that they would be grandparents. Then she imagined what years from now may hold as she holds her grandchild—story times and bubble baths and trips to the zoo to see long-necked giraffes. Oh, there is so much yet to be.
That was a real-life story that I found written by a lady called Holley Gerth. I’ve adapted it in parts, but I thought it was a really beautiful, if not painful at times, illustration of the depth and complexity of not only celebrating Mother’s Day, but also of the concept of motherhood.
I think it’s time we sing again, don’t you? If you’d like to join me for our second hymn of the morning, or again, you may just sit and listen to the music and words if you wish. It’s number 151 in your purple books: Strong and Steadfast.
Hymn 2 – Purple Book 151
So you may not know this, but today is the fourth Sunday of Lent. If you’ve given up chocolate or crisps or, dare I even suggest it, alcohol, it may very well feel like it’s the 400th Sunday. But the fourth Sunday of Lent is notable because it marks when the Church celebrates Mothering Sunday.
Back in the 16th Century, when Mothering Sunday was first celebrated, it was much less about actual mothers and more about so-called ‘Mother Churches’. This might have been their home church, their nearest cathedral or a major parish church in a bigger town. The service which took place at the ‘mother’ church symbolised the coming together of families, which, back then, would have represented a significant journey for many.
Another tradition that developed around the same sort of time, if not a little later, was to allow people who were working in the fields on wealthy farms, to have the fourth Sunday of Lent off, allowing them to visit their mothers, and maybe throw in a quick visit to the nearest Church too. This tradition was a variation on visiting the ‘mother church’ and signified a move towards a more family-focussed occasion, one which we might even recognise today. Before the days of accessible transport, family get-togethers were far more rare, and so it made sense to earmark one specific day of the year to allow families to come together and enjoy themselves. Although the advent of things like FaceTime and Zoom make it possible to connect with people no matter where in the world they are, the tradition remains that children visit their mums, take them gifts and perhaps enjoy a Sunday lunch on Mother’s Day.
I really struggled knowing what to write and say this morning. Firstly because I was unsure whether or not I should even try and tackle a service about Mother’s Day. It sounds quite innocuous, doesn’t it? I mean, how problematic could Mother’s Day be? It’s not like it’s a greatly guarded secret. After all, the shops start advertising it shortly after Christmas and the TV is full of adverts showcasing chocolates, flowers, cards and other gifts. But therein lies one of the reservations I had. Has Mother’s Day become just another one of those commercial holidays that people participate in purely because they feel they have to, rather than really using it as an opportunity to celebrate their mothers? If I deliver a service about Mother’s Day, am I just feeding the capitalist machine, rather than actually leading a service in celebration of mums everywhere?
Another reservation I had was, I think, beautifully expressed in the story I read just a moment ago. Motherhood is a difficult topic for many people. Either because they’ve had issues with their mum, or because theirs has, for whatever reason, chosen not to be present in their life. It can be a difficult time for those whose mothers are no longer with us; I know my mind turns to my dad today, who is travelling through to Harrogate to lay flowers at my nan and grandad’s memorial, on what must be an incredibly difficult day for him; and to my father-in-law, who lost his mother a few years ago, the pain of which I know still troubles him greatly. It can also be a difficult time for those whom motherhood is a desperate ambition, but for what could be a variety of reasons, continues to evade them; I think today of my sister and brother-in-law, who spent years trying to complete their family with no success. I’m so thrilled that they now have two amazing sons, one who was almost a miracle birth, given the challenges they faced, and other born through IVF and the wonders of modern medicine. And it can also be a difficult time for those mothers who are distant from their children, whether through fault of geography, family politics or bereavement. My thoughts also turn to them today.
The second main reason why I struggled to know whether or not to tackle Mother’s Day for my service this morning is because my relationship with my own mum is a test in human endurance and patience. I remember thinking to myself while writing this service: “Can I really stand in front of everyone on Sunday and say wonderful things about mothers, when I’m not sure I believe them about my own half of the time?”
Yet, here we are. Hopefully half-way through my service all about mothers on Mother’s Day. You can see, given everything I’ve just said, why anyone, not just me, might be reluctant to deliver a service on what some might perceive as a tricky subject: perfectly harmless on the face of it, but fraught with danger at every turn. However, I’m a firm believer that just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean we should turn away from it. Sometimes, it better to tackle challenges head on, as we can often learn a great deal in the process.
And that’s sort of what happened with me while writing this service. I didn’t really know what I was going to say about mothers and motherhood. I’ve already said that I had problems with the commercialisation of the day and the relationship with my mum is difficult, and the idea of motherhood can be difficult for some people. But the more I read and researched, the more I came to realise that Mother’s Day should be more than just about celebrating the women who gave birth to us.
Of course, that’s a huge part of it. But as was expressed in our story this morning, being a mother is about more than simply giving birth to someone. It’s about more than being a parent to another human being. Being a mother is, I think, about caring and nurturing. Not just one’s own child or family members, but every living person; every living thing. It’s about being someone others can look up to and turn to in their hour of need. It’s about being a hero for everyone.
I know I’m lucky enough to say that, despite the challenges I’ve had with her, my mum ticks all of those boxes. Despite all the rocky patches we’ve had over my 31 years, she’s always cared for and nurtured me. I am who I am today because of the way she raised me. I remember during a particularly difficult period at university, I picked up the phone and called her. In the next hour, she had travelled by train to stay with me. She was my hero. But she wasn’t just caring and nurturing for me, she always welcomed my friends into our home as if they were her own. She has always been a reliable ear to those who’ve needed someone to listen. She has always been a loyal friend.
In my experience, I believe all women are mothers, whether they know it or not. I know my wife would probably argue against that in the strongest terms as she would probably say she’s the least maternal person out there, but she is a mother. She is motherly. She cares for and nurtures those in her care at work; even though they’re adults, she looks out for her team members and does the very best by them. She’s the person I turn to in my hour of need; she’s the person our cat, Finley turns to every hour, on the hour, when he wants feeding.
I think most, if not all women, embody the characteristics of motherhood, which is why I believe that today is not just for those women with children. Today is for all women. You are the mothers of our world. The heroes we all turn to. And I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Before we spend some quiet time reflecting on whatever it is you yourself would like to reflect on this morning, as is customary for our church, I’d like to invite you to light a candle, or as is common for our congregation, candles, for any hopes, joys, thanks or concerns you may have. You may wish to vocalise your thoughts as you light your candles, but as always, you are more than welcome to light them in silence. There is also no obligation to light a candle at all. Instead, you may use this time to pray, meditate or reflect in your own space.
Candles of hopes, joys and concerns
Let us take some time to reflect and gather our thoughts. You may wish to listen to the music, or you may wish to let your mind wander. You might want to think about those special moments in your lives that we’ve been talking about this morning, or, as I often find myself doing, you might be planning what’s for tea tonight, and how long it’s going to take you to battle through that mountain of ironing that simply won’t do itself.
Music for Reflection – A Mother’s Love by The O’Neill Brothers
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
That was To My Mother by Edgar Allan Poe.
I love the idea that, if we suspend our disbelief for just a second, in Heaven, God and the angels are searching for word that perfectly encompasses ‘love’, and end up with ‘mother’. Poe wrote the poem in the wake of the loss of his own mother and demonstrates the love he obviously held for her, but also the esteem in which he held all mothers.
As a society, we put a lot of pressure on mothers. It can’t be an easy job to constantly try and live up to society’s expectations of you. But somehow, mothers, all women, manage. Again, I just want to thank you for all that you do.
Let us sing again. Our third hymn comes from the Purple Book and is number 10: Be That Guide Whom Love Sustains.
Hymn 3 – Purple Book 10
Be that guide whom love sustains. Be that helper nothing daunts. Be that builder trusting good. Be that teacher faith directs. Seems to me like we should all strive to be more motherly, don’t you think?
Now, I’ve purposefully spoken at great length about the idea of motherhood being more than just about giving birth to someone. But, to be honest, I think that deserves some acknowledgement too, don’t you? I mean, think about it. Really stop and think about it – I’m conscious that I’m probably addressing the men in the room more here, but how amazing is it? That a female body can develop, grow and give life to another human being? Without women, without mothers, where would we be? Well, nowhere is the obvious answer. But the idea of motherhood, at its very core, is all about producing new life and caring for it until it is able to care for itself. We see this in all aspects of nature, and it’s right that we take the time to appreciate just how important and sacrificial it is – for another human being to surrender many of their own freedoms solely for the purpose of creating and caring for new life.
Yes, there are many men who also care for new life, but there’s a particular reason why biology chose women to be the bearers of children. There’s a reason, again, if we momentarily suspend our disbelief as unitarians, that God chose Mary to carry Jesus, and didn’t give the job to Joseph. There’s a reason that followers of Pagan traditions revere nature as Mother.
Women and mothers are truly extraordinary. And while many of their ways remain mysterious, to me at least, I cannot understate or downplay just how much respect and admiration I have for them.
For everything you do: thank you.
Let us pray, reflect, or meditate together.
Spirit of Life,
Today, the advertising tells us what to buy for mum, instead help us listen to and honour the deeper voices.
Today, let us honour all of those who have made this world possible for us. Those who did the hard work of building a better world for future generations.
Today, let us honour the grief of those who have lost children, through miscarriage, stillbirth, death, those who long for children, and those for whatever reason cannot be in touch with their children this day.
Today, let us honour the grief of those who mourn for their parents, whether separated by death, dementia, or disconnection.
Today, let us honour those who fill in for missing mothering—fathers, grandparents, foster parents, aunts and uncles and more.
Today, let us honour the ways we have each been nurtured and mothered, by the mothers who gave birth to us, by the parents who raised us, by those many others who have supported and nurtured us, of all genders.
Today, let us honour those who survived damaging and traumatic mothering. Spirit of life, help them to heal. Let us remember that not every mother is ready for her children. Let us turn aside from the myths of motherhood on a pedestal and remember each parent is an imperfect human in need of more support than adulation, in need of our support.
Today, let us honour those who are doing the hard work of nurturing, striving to meet not only the physical needs, but the many deep and complicated emotional and spiritual needs. Spirit of life, nurture and sustain them so that they may be the nurturers you desire.
Today, let us honour all the ways each of us give to tomorrow, knowing there are multiple paths of meaning and more than one way to birth the future.
Today, with both joy and sorrow, let us be grateful for life, for the chance to love, for those who love us, and the opportunity to nurture the future.
May it be so. Amen.
That was a prayer written by Rev. Evin Carvill Ziemer, a congregational life consultant and member of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Before we sing our final hymn of the morning, I just want to check to see if there are any notices.
Now, I’d like to invite you to join in with or listen and follow the words to, our final hymn of the morning. It’s number 90 in your purple hymn books: Let Us Give Thanks and Praise.
Hymn 4 – Purple Book 90
As always, after the service, please join us for some light refreshments, there’s always an abundance of beige goodies and sweat treats, as well as tea and coffee. Also, if you would like to pop something into our collection tray, any amount will be humbly appreciated. Although, please do not feel obliged to put anything in at all. The donation of your time here this morning is more than enough.
As we come to the end of our time together this morning, let me now extinguish our chalice. Let its smoke and smell remind us of what we’ve discussed here this morning. Let us leave this time together full of appreciation not only for our own mothers, but for all women and those who care for nurture our fellow human beings.
Extinguishing of the chalice
And we will, as is the tradition of our congregation here, finish our service with the words of God Be In My Head. And if you wish, you may substitute the word God, for love, or another word that you feel is more appropriate for you:
God (Love) be in my head,
And in my understanding;
God (Love) be in mine eyes,
And in my looking;
God (Love) be in my mouth,
And in my speaking;
God (Love) be in my heart,
And in my thinking;
God (Love) be at mine end,
And at my departing.
Exit music – You’ll Be In My Heart – Phil Collins