Church of England Diocese of Truro North Petherwin

Our Mothering Sunday Service

22 Mar 2021, 10:30 a.m.

Mothering Sunday is always a special service, celebrating our return to our Mother Church to receive her blessings and to give thanks for her guidance throughout the course of our lives. And, of course, in its modern adaption, it is a way of giving thanks to our birth mothers who have, and in many cases, continue to nurture us, their children.

The service was made all the more enjoyable by the careful leadership of Helen Uglow and music by Jo, one of our church organists, who also gave us an interesting and enlightening history of each of the hymns for which she was about to play the music. Sadly Covid restrictions prevented us from singing to her excellent accompaniment.

For the service talk, Terry Faull gave us an interesting and enlightening history of Mothering Sunday and we invite you to read this as set out below.

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A History of Mothering Sunday- a talk given at St.Paternus on Mothering Sunday

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by Terry Faull

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If you looked at your calendar this morning it may have told you that today, 14th March, is Mothering Sunday or it may say it is Mother’s Day. Are these just different names or are they different things?

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One name is ancient, and one is much more modern, but today we accept them as being in celebration of mothers and the qualities of motherhood. In fact, they are an example of how a tradition can adapt to reflect different times. To understand what I mean and why this year it is 14th March, we need to look to history and back to the origins of Eastertime.

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Jesus the disciples and the early church observed important Jewish festivals including the spring festival of Passover. However in In AD 325 the Roman Emperor, Constantine, wanted a uniform version of Christianity rather than the different gospels and forms of the faith which existed in various parts of the Empire. He was reorganising the administration in the Roman Empire and was introducing standard rules for government and expected the same approach within the emerging church. He called all the church leaders from the Empire to a conference in Nicaea, a city in modern Turkey. Constantine asked the gathering to set out the doctrines which all church leaders should follow and which in turn, they would require all Christians everywhere to accept.

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The Council considered many aspects of Christian belief and doctrine. Amongst the things it decided was a decision to move away from celebrating Jewish festivals and instead to have a new way for calculating the days of Christian religious festivals. It was agreed to use a Lunisolar calculation e.g., combining the phases of the sun and moon for the dates of festivals such as Easter and Christmas. Easter was to be the 1st Sunday after the full moon nearest the Vernal Equinox ( when the sun is immediately over the Equator) e.g., around 20th March. At Nicaea it was also confirmed the 40 days of fasting before Easter. ( in the 13th century this period became known as Lent-an anglo-saxon word meaning springtime).

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In setting the Easter festival in this way, the Council may have been influenced not only by the Jewish tradition but more ancient traditions of celebrating the coming of spring-and the renewal of life .

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Although there was general agreement at Nicaea, not every provincial bishop of the church who was present accepted al the Council’s findings. Still today, there are millions of Christians across the world who celebrate the great church festivals on days using the old system and calendar. For them Easter Day in 2021 is 2nd May.

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The history of Mothering Sunday now takes us to the 16th century. It was a time of religious turmoil in Europe. The authority of the Roman Church was being challenged by Martin Luther and others, while in England the church was making changes and sought ways to exert its authority. The tradition of going “a mothering “ was introduced on the 4th Sunday in Lent. People were encouraged to return to their mother church to be blessed i.e., to their cathedral or to the church where they had been baptized or attended when they were children. On this day, Refreshment Sunday, they were also allowed to break the Lenten fast when travelled to their mother church -and also to visit their family. Many were given the day off work to do so.

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A tradition grew up of using the break in the fast to bake and share a simnel cake . This was first mentioned in 1648 by Robert Herrick, one of the most celebrated poets of the time and vicar of Shaugh Prior in Devon, who wrote

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A Ceremonie in Glocester

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I’le to thee a Simnel bring,

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‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering:

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So that when she blesseth thee,

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Half that blessing thou‘lt give me.

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By the 19th century the tradition of visiting your mother church on Refreshment Sunday began to wane but the idea of visiting your family remained. At about the same time in America, Ann Jarvis, a peace activist during the American Civil War and member of a Quaker family, drew attention to the fact that it is mothers who carry the family burden and who suffer most during times of war. She said that whatever happened in life everyone needed the assurance that someone would always love and care for them-a mother figure.

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After Ann’s death in 1905, her daughter Anna, wanted to do something in her memory. She had heard about the tradition in Europe of Mothering Sunday and eventually persuaded the American president, Woodrow Wilson, to declare the second Sunday in May every year as Mother’s Day for all mothers. She asked that white carnations should be the flower of the Day saying

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“The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother’s love never dying”.

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And so, in America, the 2nd Sunday in May became Mother’s Day. The idea spread across the world but soon became heavily commercialised -much to Anna’s regret.

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In 1913 Constance Adelaide Smith, the daughter of an Anglican vicar from Nottinghamshire, read an article about the American Mother’s Day. She was determined to combine it with the old church tradition of going “a mothering” She advocated Mothering Sunday to become not only a day for recognizing your Mother Church, but also for 'mothers of earthly homes' and, back to Mother Nature and traditional celebration of the coming of spring.

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Like Anna Jarvis we may regret the commercialisation of traditional festivals. Perhaps the combination of Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday as suggested by Adelaide Smith, is a good example of how things can adapt and change – a time to be think beyond all the commercialisation to deeper meanings. The qualities of caring, sacrifice and love without reservation are universal. Of course, not all mothers in all generations can or are able to demonstrate these qualities but everyone needs someone who does care in this way. As well as biological mothers, others such as adoptive and foster mothers, step-mothers and those who care for neighbours, strangers and refugees can show these same levels of love and commitment.

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There is an old saying “not all change is for the better” but Mothering Sunday shows that adapting old traditions, can provide new opportunities to celebrate universal qualities but different ways and times.

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A blessed Mother’s Day 

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