Thursday, May 08, 2008

Faith Works 5-10-08
Jeff Gill

Faith Of Our Mothers, Living Still

Frederick Faber was not writing a hymn about Mom when he wrote “Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.”

And in Grafton, West Virginia back to 1908, Anna Jarvis was not thinking about warfare, spiritual or otherwise, when she began her fight for a day set aside to honor mothers, particularly her own.

You’ve no doubt already heard the story about Ann Jarvis, tireless worker for health and sanitation through the Civil War and advocate for community causes of all sorts, whose daughter Anna decided that she and all mothers deserved a special commemoration all their own after her death on May 9, 1905.

So in Grafton, West Virginia, she set aside the second Sunday of May, when the trees were all in bloom and the Appalachian spring was at its height, beginning with a few friends at home in 1907, leading to the first official “Mother’s Day” event at her Methodist church this week (this very day!) 100 years ago.

Next was the governor of West Virginia, then the General Conference of the Methodist Church (not United back then), Congress made a proclamation, and finally President Woodrow Wilson made it nationally official in 1914.

Now, “Mother’s Day” is not an official part of the Christian Year from Advent to Lent through Eastertide to . . . Pentecost, which is what tomorrow should be, 50 days (“pente”) following Easter itself. Then is the long, hard slog through “Ordinary Time” until the first Sunday of Advent sets the liturgical year in motion again.

Pentecost marks the birth of the church told in Acts, chapter 2, with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem. Among whom, we know from Acts, were Mary and other wives and widows and young women.

Many pastors will struggle tomorrow with how to properly balance the observance of this major feast of the Christian calendar with a high holy day of cultural celebration, complete with cards and flowers and the biggest day for eating out of the entire year (Waitresses Day, anyone?).

What most congregational leaders know is that women, and especially mothers & grandmothers, are the very backbone of most churches. Any student of church history knows that in Antioch and Edessa, from Constantinople to Copenhagen, whether Katerina von Bora or Susanna Wesley, mothers have been the rock on which much of the church we know today was founded.

In this past week I had the sad pleasure of attending a funeral for Betsy O’Neill, of whom it may almost be said that she “gave birth” to the parish of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church. As a mother in her own family, and for many beyond her immediate circle of relations, she mothered and loved and cared for a community that made God’s love visible. Without Betsy, there would likely have been a St. Ed’s someday, under some name, of some sort, but it would not be the vibrant parish you pass in Granville today.

She grew up Methodist, and on learning my own affiliation, she told me with great glee some years ago a story, told again for her at the memorial service by Father Paul, of how the Granville Inn’s Sally Jones Sexton threatened to sell out to a convent of Catholic nuns -- if she didn’t get a liquor license.

So good Methodists like young Betsy and her mother marched out on the streets, petitions in hand, to stave off the dread prospect of nuns in Granville, even if it meant the arrival of Demon Rum. She had 61 years of happy marriage to her Jack as a faithful Catholic to balance out those signatures she gathered years before, so she laughed.

That is the laughter that the Devil runs away from, the good cheer which helps build the Kingdom of Heaven, the rock on which the Church of Christ is built. Mother’s Day and Pentecost will coexist very nicely, as signs of the Spirit of God which gives life to the world and points us all to the life eternal to come.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story at

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