Mother’s Day is a source of joy for many people, a blip on the radar for some, and a point of pain for others. I once learned of a woman struggling with infertility who said that when she went to church on Mother’s Day, she thought to herself, “Please don’t make the moms stand up. Please don’t hand out flowers to moms. Please, no one wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.” This day can also be difficult for those who are estranged from their mother or child, as well as those who have lost a mother or child. Throw in all the Mother’s Day messaging that doesn’t acknowledge this reality, and it can feel even worse.
I always find it helpful to recall the history of Mother’s Day, which can shift our focus to the celebration of all women who seek to nurture, protect, and promote peace. In 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs to improve sanitary conditions and stem her community’s appalling infant mortality rates in West Virginia. In the wake of the Civil War, she coordinated a Mothers’ Friendship Day to bring former foes on the battlefield back together again. Around the same time in Boston, American abolitionist and author, Julia Ward Howe (who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) called for a Mother’s Day dedicated to peace. She wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation appealing to mothers around the world to band together to work for peace “in the name of womanhood and humanity.”
Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905 on the second Sunday in May, and her daughter, Anna Jarvis, began a campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday. She held the first formal Mother’s Day two years later at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia in memory of her mother. The holiday stuck owing to Anna Jarvis’ advocacy efforts. By 1911, all states were celebrating Mother’s Day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday.
Mother’s Day continues to be sentimental for me, especially with a school-aged child and mother I adore. In addition to these familial connections, I celebrate the roots of Mother’s Day and the many women who serve in the image of our Mothering God at all levels of society and in all types of families, including church community.
Finally, while I don’t particularly love the priestly title, “Mother Dannhauser,” I love what it represents. And I’m always seeking to live up to the name – for you, for Incarnation, and for the legacy of our foremothers in activism and peace. With motherly love,