Mothering Sunday is one of my favourite festivals of the year – coming as it does half way through Lent and as Spring is coming in Britain - the lovely flowers given each year to Mums in church bringing a welcome splash of colour after the greyness of the Winter months.
The origins are not fully known, but from the 17th Century, it became a time when servants were given the time to return to their Mother Church, and would pick flowers on their way, and give them to their own mothers as a gift.
It was only in the 20th Century that the more secular Mothers’ Day emerged. It is good to celebrate this, and the more recent Fathers’ Day in June - a way in which people of all faiths and none can take the time to say “thank you” to those who care for and nurture them.
But it is also good to reflect on the wider meaning of “Mothering”, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “the process of caring for children as their mother, or of caring for people as a mother does”. Whilst acknowledging the very special relationship between a mother and her child, it embraces today’s reality, where the lead carer could equally be a single father, a grandparent, or someone in the wider family or community. It is vitally important to celebrate them all, as they help ensure that every child can grow up in a loving and supportive environment.
There is a saying in Africa, “it takes a village to raise a child” – and I was struck recently, speaking to a Mothers’ Union leader from Africa, who said “it is reality that in every family there are people who have died of Aids. You cannot just leave the children. So we bring them into our families – our extended families all have both biological children and children whom we have welcomed in”.
… and the definition goes beyond the caring for children to “caring for people as a mother does”. It is so important, on Mothering Sunday, that we take time to celebrate and thank all those who work in ways great and small to help others. Generally, as with a mother’s unconditional love, they do this quite naturally, without any expectation of thanks, or indeed recognising that what they do is special. I am thinking particularly of the many members of Mothers’ Union in the UK, who undertake so many activities, including the “ministry of the tea urn” in hospitals and prisons as well as parishes, providing sustenance, but also a listening ear.
So, this Mothering Sunday, I would like to give thanks for all those, male or female, who “mother” in whatever way.
Beverley Jullien, Chief Executive of Mothers' Union