Mothering Sunday resources

10th March 2021

Many single people, and those married without children, say they find Mothering Sunday services a painful experience. In fact, many singles report avoiding church on Mothers' Day.

If you want to honour mothers on this special day without making anyone in your church feel excluded, here are some suggestions from singles for creating a service with something for everyone… 

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COVID-19: Making Mothering Sunday inclusive online

Some churches may choose to do a slideshow of photos of mothers and families in the congregation to celebrate Mothers' Day. If you are going to do this, make sure your slideshow reflects the congregation, and include single people who are Godparents, teachers and those leading Sunday School. Alternatively, change the focus to be about the mothering of God for all of us, and include everyone from the church community.

You could encourage parents to think of single people who are mother figures in their children's lives, and write a card or record a short video message for them. This is a great way to make them feel valued and included as part of the church and deepen connection between families and single people.

Include a moment in the service for private prayer or reflection for those who are hurting. You could light a candle on the screen or encourage members to light one in their homes.

If you send out your service materials in advance (whether digitally or via post), think about whether members will be receiving a pack of purely Mothering Sunday themed materials.

‘Remember those who are hurting’

Many single people – especially women – already feel excluded in a church that is predominantly built around the nuclear family. If it’s not handled sensitively, Mothering Sunday can rub more salt into the wound. Singles report watching flowers being handed out to all the mothers in the congregation while they sit empty-handed and empty-hearted, and say they feel overwhelmed by the grief of unfulfilled dreams.

It’s not just singles who can find Mothering Sunday painful. It can also be an extremely difficult day for women (and couples) who’ve experienced miscarriages, stillbirths or had children who have died. As many as one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage, and some couples experience recurrent miscarriage.

Similarly, women who have felt forced by circumstance to give a child up for adoption can find the day very emotional. This tends to apply to older members of the congregation, who may have got pregnant as young women and felt they had no option but to give up their child, but have lived with the pain ever since.

People whose relationships with their own mothers have been neglectful, unloving or abusive can also find the celebration of motherhood difficult, as can those who have grown up without a mother (perhaps in the care system) or whose mother has died.

It is important to recognise those who are hurting in your prayer time (see end of article for ideas). It can help to explicitly mention and pray for people who find Mothering Sunday painful in different ways, and will make them feel valued, seen and included.

You could mention those who are hurting in the sermon, if appropriate, referencing examples from the Bible of barrenness, difficult relationship with mothers, or painful experiences of motherhood (e.g. Mary watching Jesus die)

Consider devoting a portion of the service to those who are grieving for the babies they’ve lost – or the ones they’ve never had. You can also offer a ritual or quiet moment for people to acknowledge and bring their pain to God, which can help them grieve. Prayer stations are also helpful, you could set one up during the week, for example a tree where people can hang baby booties to symbolise children they have lost. Check out the Baby Loss Awareness Week website for information and resources.

Some churches include an opportunity to pray or light candles for those who are hurting. You can also dedicate a part of the service to those who’ve had a negative (or no) relationship with their mothers, and have spent a lifetime yearning for the mother they never had.

‘Broaden the focus of your service'

Bearing in mind the huge variety of family experiences in your congregation will help you plan a service that is sensitive to everyone’s needs. With a little thought, it can be an event for every member of the church, whether single or married, parent or childless.

Services can also celebrate the women who’ve been a mother figure in a child's life. This can include godparents, those who foster children; who help, teach or act as mentor; who step in when parents are struggling; and who are simply a motherly presence in the lives of young and old. Single people often step into these roles, and it’s good to acknowledge the value they’ve brought to others.

This is also a good time to celebrate the people leading Sunday school - both men and women.

You may want to spend time giving thanks for the mothers of church members – whether they’re still around or are much missed. This could include a small ceremony of acknowledgement – for instance, inviting people to write the names of their mothers on coloured pieces of paper to pin on a board or place in a bowl to be prayed over.

If the children make posies or other gifts to hand out, it’s a good idea to make sure these are presented to every woman in the service. Not everyone appreciates this – we’ve heard them called ‘pity posies’! – but the majority of women like to be included. You can reframe this by acknowledging that the whole church community is involved the raising of children.

By thinking of creative ways to embrace the wide variety of experiences of being a mother (or not), and having a mother (or not), you’re able to include every member of the Body – man, woman and child.

'Accept that it’s just too much for some people’

Despite your best efforts, some people will find Mothering Sunday services too raw and painful, and will avoid church on that day. It will help them to know that you understand, and that it’s okay to avoid certain events to protect themselves from further hurt.

It's good for people to know in advance that you will be doing a Mothering Sunday service, so they can choose to come or not come. If you know members of your congregation will struggle, you may want to talk to them in advance – individually or addressing the whole church – to explain your intentions and outline what the service will involve. Bad previous experiences may have scared people off, but understanding that the service will be for everyone, whatever their circumstance, may help to reassure them. Equally if the service will have a strong focus on parenting and birth mothers - let people know that.

Prayer Points for Mothering Sunday

Making your Mothering Sunday prayers inclusive to cover a range of circumstances is really important. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Give thanks for Godparents, mother and father figures, mentors, teachers, Sunday school and youth group leaders.
  • Give thanks for all those who nurture others and show them the love of God.
  • Give thanks for the family of God that gives us a place to call home and experience love. Pray that we would understand how to be family to each other.
  • Give thanks for older members of the congregation, for the support, wisdom, counsel, encouragement and love that they have to offer to the church community.
  • Pray for single parents who are doing the job of both mother and father, and who have had to juggle childcare, homeschooling and possibly home-working during the pandemic.
  • Pray for those who find Mothering Sunday difficult. For single people who wanted to be parents, women (and couples) who couldn’t have children, who have experienced miscarriages, stillbirths or had children who have died.
  • Pray for people whose relationships with their own mothers have been neglectful, unloving or abusive. For those who have grown up without a mother. For those mourning the loss of a mother.
  • Pray for those who are isolated and who long for a family, to have opportunities to build close friendships in the family of God. Pray that families will be open to embracing single people and welcoming them into their family life.
  • Give thanks for mothering love of God, and pray that everyone would feel and receive that love. Pray that we would be able to offer that love to people we know and meet, whoever they are.