faith in action

Imagine a world in which women...

General Secretary Susan Henry-Crowe reflects on Mother's Day and the recent announcement that the church failed to ratify two constitutional amendments related to justice for women.

This is a bittersweet week. In this particular year, when the life and contributions of mothers are celebrated on the second Sunday in May, faithful women of The United Methodist Church are likely to feel the pain of the Church’s rejection of amendments acknowledging their lives and roles in the Church.

While Mother’s Day cannot begin to capture the contributions of women, it is impossible to pass the day without remembering foremothers both in this life and in the life beyond.

My own mother, like most women, led a layered and complex life. My mother was a nurse anesthetist (a remarkable accomplishment for someone born in 1915), socially conscious, justice-seeking, a forever reconciling voice, mother of four, a friend to many and someone for whom Mother’s Day could not begin to pay adequate tribute to her personal, civic and church contributions.

According to the National Women’s History Project, Mother’s Day was born out of appreciation for the tireless advocacy of women.

In 1858, Ann Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker, organized “Mother’s Work Days” to improve the sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water.

Additionally, in 1872, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, and women’s suffragist, established a special day for mothers. Howe’s commitment to celebrating the social, religious, and civic contributions of women was born out of a desire for peace after the Franco-Prussian War, and the acknowledgment of the unique skills and perspective mothers have in peacemaking.

In 1905, Ann Jarvis’ daughter Anna decided to honor her mother’s lifelong activism, and in May 1907, a Mother’s Day service was arranged on the second Sunday in May at the Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Ann Jarvis had taught. That same day, a special service was held at the Wannamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which could seat no more than a third of the 15,000 people who showed up.

The custom spread to churches in 45 states and Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. The following year saw the congressional resolution, which was promptly signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

On this Mother’s Day, I invite us to imagine two things:

First: Imagine a world in which women do not contribute in any way to the churches around the world. Even for just a day. No preaching of sermons, no giving of money, no work or presence of any kind — their voices, food preparation, child care, teaching, singing, directing of choirs, cleaning, driving, accounting, preparing bulletins, updating websites, planning. Just imagine. What would our churches look like?

Second: Imagine a world and a church in which women are valued and welcomed for who they are, for their minds, for all of their work, both seen and unseen — in the home, in the community and in the world. Imagine a church that speaks unequivocally that women and girls are made in the image of God — a church that vows to uphold the dignity and sacred worth of women and girls in all spaces. Women and girls who are housed and unhoused, healthy and unwell, old and young, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, clergy and lay, presidents and prime ministers, doctors and nurses, and teachers and firefighters. Complicated and layered women like my mother. Just imagine. What would our churches and the world look like?

When you are finished imagining, I invite you to join me in channeling disappointment in the failure of our church to uphold the sacred worth of women into action.

This Mother’s Day, consider addressing the dangers women face during pregnancy and childbirth. The health of far too many women around the world is at risk as they become mothers due to a lack of resources, education and health care. Church and Society has put together a resource to help you engage your congregations and communities on issues of maternal health. Click here to access the toolkit.

And this Sunday, as we celebrate mothers, let us hold our United Methodist sisters a little tighter and recommit ourselves to ensuring the sacred worth of women and girls in our church and around the world.