OUR Sunday’s Readings column opts this week for the Lent 4 (i.e. Refreshment Sunday) readings rather than those set for a Mothering Sunday service; but that does not mean that no flowers or chocolates will change hands. It was simply time to see the other side of the Common Worship lectionary’s coin again. Nevertheless, preachers can often seem apologetic about Mothering Sunday. Sensitivity to the diversity of households in which children are raised; concern for the bereaved or childless; and even solicitude for men (Father’s Day, despite church support, has not caught on as much) prompt preachers to tread warily. At the same time, reluctance to speak of Mother Church reflects (gender issues apart) the more general disaffection from institutions and institutional concepts of spiritual authority.
Yet Mothering Sunday also brings unease in today’s Church of England because the mother’s knee is the place at which the faith was traditionally passed on, and Anglican parents now have substantially less religious influence in the crucial early years than previous generations had. Whether it is a lack of “homes of living and vibrant faith”, as Ali Campbell suggested (Comment, 12 January); hesitancy about “indoctrination”; the lack of help in articulating faith in language and in ways that are both appropriate to the child and, as importantly, authentic to the parent (not necessarily a member of the Evangelical sub-culture); or defeat in the face of the omnipresent electronic device, it is clear that an act of parental will is required: rarely easy unless you begin as you mean to go on. Perhaps preachers will be of help this Sunday if they do something to buttress the spiritual authority of the mother, the parent, the guardian, among a generation reluctant to repeat the mistakes of the authoritarian past, and tempted to be cowed by even their youngest offspring.
GETTING on for 30 years ago, most overseas dioceses had become part of autonomous Churches; white missionaries were a vanishing breed; overseas mission agencies faced shortfalls; and Anglicans (many viewing Christian Aid, Tearfund, and suchlike as more relevant) were inclined to see it as no great matter that they did. Few foresaw the storm-clouds that would burst several years later at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, though some wondered whether there might be a reckoning over North American stridency about women’s ordination. . . Nearly 20 years after the Lambeth deluge, we begin a feature series this week on overseas mission. Is it time to venture out again without an umbrella?