Mother’s Day on May 10 in the Diocese of Washington was marked by many of the usual traditions. There were warm greetings and prayers for mothers, flowers to take home. But in 40 churches, the annual celebration of mothers was refocused in response to Bishop Mariann Budde’s call to dedicate the day to prayer and witness for all mothers — particularly those who live with the daily fear of losing their children to violence, as well as for the children themselves.
Every congregation is unique, and each of the 40 churches found its own way to incorporate the bishop’s ideas and the materials provided by the diocese. Here are just a few highlights from a day filled with powerful preaching and prayer and witness in the surrounding neighborhoods, a day that may mark the beginning of a new unity and resolve among our congregations to build a just society that reflects Christ’s love for each and every mother’s child.
The violent deaths of young black men at the hands of the police and the unrest that has followed provided the initial impetus for All Mothers’ Children. Preaching at Calvary Church, DC, the Rev. Gayle Stewart-Fisher said, “I spent 20 years on the Metropolitan Police Department in this city and so I am torn because I was the police, I married the police, my step-son is the police, and my friends and colleagues are the police.”
But Fisher is also the mother of a grown son, and she spoke of having the talk that most black parents have “about how to survive an encounter with the police, how to come back home safe, come back home alive.” She called the congregation to action, to fight against “the tyranny and oppression of a society that denies the humanity of our black sons.”
Like Calvary and other churches participating in All Mothers’ Children, St. Mark’s, DC, used the litany provided by the diocese, and designed the liturgy to reflect the day’s focus. After 11:15 am service, Priest-in Charge Justice Schunior led 30 parishioners down the street to the Capitol, where they offered the All Mothers’ Litany again, read Langston Hughes’ “As I Grow Older,” and passages from scripture. “It was a little quiet at the Capitol on Sunday afternoon,” she said, “but it was meant to be symbolic. It is a center of power in our nation.”
The preacher at Misa Alegria at St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Esperanza Conesds, asked the congregation, “What is love? And she talked of the love a mother feels for her child as soon as she learns she is pregnant, of how she protects that child and longs to keep it safe.”
She told the story of coming to the United States and working “like a machine” to provide for her two sons. And she told of losing the oldest, because of our immigration policies and the violence in Guatemala, where he was murdered as he intervened in an attack on an elderly woman.
“For me,” Conesds says, “it is no longer a happy Mother’s Day. When you think of other mothers whose kids are in prison or who are in prison themselves, the mothers whose kids are here and they have been deported, today is the day that we should unite with those mothers who are suffering the loss of their children.” [Translation, courtesy of Phil Kennedy]
Bishop Mariann visited Good Shepherd, Silver Spring, on Mother’s Day and participated in the congregation’s procession in the neighborhood. In her sermon she quoted devastating statistics from the Department of Education and the criminal justice system that show the impact of racial disparities on people of color.
“Just as churches played a pivotal role of civil rights efforts of the 1950s and 60s,” she said, “we have a role to play today.” She invited the people of Good Shepherd to join with her and others in the diocese in discerning what shape that role might take.
In the gospel proclaimed on May 10, Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. That command was at the heart of All Mothers’ Children. It was heard in the sermons preached by mothers of children of color and in the prayers. It was seen in the processions beyond the walls of our churches. And it will lead us on.