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Reclaiming the history behind Mother’s Day

Child holding mother's hand

Did you know the idea for a day to honor all mothers was started by faithful Methodist women? Rev. Faith Timmons looks at the holiday’s humble beginnings and thanks God for how this idea has grown and blessed us all.

Elder, Michigan Conference

A multitude of mixed feelings surrounds Mother’s Day. Some avoid it, and others enjoy it. That often depends on one’s relationships and experiences. I sincerely believe that reflecting upon our Methodist heritage and reclaiming this holiday’s original intent can help us appreciate all it is meant to be. The humble beginnings of this holiday in the month of May, at a local church, were meant to offer a place of healing for all of us.

Mother’s Day was birthed by prayer and fostered by faith. It represents one daughter’s dream that was finally fulfilled on May 10, 1908, when her wish became a worship service at a Methodist Episcopal Church. If I were to write a memoir featuring Mother’s Day, we’d read that its original intent and the life story of its originator both offer significant meaning. It’s encouraging in a way to which most of us can relate.

Anna Jarvis never had children, and her mother died when she was young. What lived on is Anna’s memory of a very special day in Sunday school when the lesson was on mothers of the Bible. Anna was only 12 when these moving words of the closing prayer made a lasting, life-changing impact: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” That was the petition of Anna’s mother, the Sunday school superintendent, who taught the lesson that morning.

Albeit, that experience is not true of every mother. This sentiment is not true of every son or daughter. Yet, what can carry great significance for us all is just how touching one prayer can be. That heartfelt petition prompted Anna into action when her mother passed only two short years later. Over 130 years later, Anna’s response can still be felt today!

Everything about this story is significant, even if, like Anna, we have no children of our own. Even if, painfully, someone at the center of our lives, like Anna’s mom, has passed on. What moves me just as deeply as her mother’s Sunday school prayer is young Anna’s vow in response as she watched her mother’s casket being lowered into the ground: “Mother, that prayer made in our little church at Grafton calling for someone, somewhere, to found a memorial to Mother’s Day. . . . The time and place is here, and the someone is your daughter, and by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.”

Anna isn’t famous, but we have got to admit, what she did was fabulous! She looked to God amid her pain. Her vision was to bless everyone. Mother’s Day didn’t start as a holiday. It began as a thank offering to moms. Its purpose was to encourage a spirit of appreciation. She asked everyone she knew to write loving notes to their mothers, even though she could not. She transformed her trauma into a time of thanksgiving. What a tall order for a poor woman from a tiny town in West Virginia, and yet look at the results! That blessing benefited the entire nation.

Anna expanded the church work that her mother, a pastor’s daughter, started decades before as “Mother’s Friendship Day.” It evolved into a national holiday, established as “Mother’s Day.” Her actions remind me of the lyrics of the hymn “Pass It On”:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Rev. Faith Green Timmons is a United Methodist elder and a member of the Michigan Annual Conference. She spent time as a journalist before pursuing full-time ministry.

Last Updated on May 10, 2023

The Michigan Conference