Faith of Our Mothers -- By: Evelyn Bence

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 16:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: Faith of Our Mothers
Author: Evelyn Bence

Faith of Our Mothers

Evelyn Bence

Evelyn Bence is a frequent contributor to Priscilla Papers. She is the author of Prayers for Girlfriends and Sisters and Me (Servant-Vine, 1999).

I haven’t gone home for Mother’s Day in years—a conscious decision. My mother’s delight in my presence hasn’t measured up to the comfort I’ve received by attending my own predictably liturgical church, tied to the lectionary that marks milestones of Jesus’ life, without regard to the secular calendar. Except for a one-line prayer of thanksgiving for our collective mothers, my church leaves the May commemoration in the hands of the family-breakfast in bed or dinner on the town.

But back home my pastor father ran a different kind of church, with God as a frame around home or country holidays, Mother’s Day being chief among them. Deep down, my patriarchal father knew he owed his very life to his mother, and his stable home—which facilitated a smooth career—to his wife. Deep down, he knew they and other women deserved recognition for their years of service at home, in the church. Consider the gold watches they’d never get (their wedding bands and someday their golden wedding anniversary receptions having to suffice). Consider the church offices they could never expect to hold. I say this annual Mother’s Day tribute was a guilt offering, and it grew grander as he approached his retirement.

When I was very young, every mother present received a long-stemmed carnation at the end of the service. I stood guard over the galvanized pails, making sure everyone knew the rules: Only one flower, only to mothers, white if her own mother was dead, red if alive. My mother brought her scarlet flower home and set its spindly stem in a clear-glass bud vase in the middle of the dining room table.

As for his personal commemoration, some years Dad gave Mom a rose bush, which he added to the thorny garden gradually taking over the parsonage yard. She enjoyed the blossoms; he enjoyed the digging and pruning. One year he brought her a case of pork and beans, a purchase he justified by figuring that opening a can of precooked food, rather than cooking up dried beans from scratch, would save her time in the kitchen.

Early in June, the church Dad pastored celebrated Family Sunday, presumably a holiday of his own making. The sermon praised fidelity and solidarity. Outside the main door every family, upon leaving church, could choose a rose bush to take home and plant in its suburban yard. The more roses gracing the neighborhood, the better.

When he moved to a smaller town (we children grown, no longer lined up on the front pew, Mother anchoring the side aisle), Family Sunday got assumed into a bigger and better Mother’s Day celebration. A potted plant—a rose bush i...

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