Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday May 9 th .
But it can be an awkward holiday to celebrate for some. To give my own back story, I was in foster care from age 5 to 11. I’ve never met my birth mother. Then, I was adopted by a single father, so my memories of motherhood are somewhat limited.
I also know that not everyone has had a relation with their birth mother that they treasure, and so some churches will avoid this day. They believe that to raise this issue is to raise up all we wish would have been different in our own families.
But I think that would be a mistake. If the LGBT movement has taught us anything, it has been to reimagine families. One can start by asking the question: What do families do?
You can identify families with those individuals that provide nurturing, support, freedom to grow, security, relations that can last a lifetime. They provide your first moral lessons, indicate what kind of world you live in, pass on memories and traditions.
Reinhold Niebuhr calls this “original security.” They provide the support needed for you to become the person you are. A space where you are loved, encouraged, directed, and supported.
That is, families are based on those people who do family for us and one another.
Biological families should provide this. That is not always the case. But for any of us to be who we are in life, we did have that support, and from some important people in our lives. They might have been teachers, mentors, neighbor parents, youth groups, social workers, friends, and pastors.
In talking with the Department of Human Services, I was surprised that most of the folks taking on foster and adoptive children are relatives, others who had to step up in raising the children. They included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. They become family.
I found that support in the church. I found a safe, welcoming environment growing up. I found it in friendships. For some work provides this, for others their volunteer efforts, for others their church work, in all this, we can discover family.
And in all this, responsive love happens. Sometimes that is our biological family, but it also can include what the LGBT community has called one’s “chosen family,” those who do family for us and with us.
I suppose being adopted myself I’m taken with the language of adoption in the Book of Romans and the language of “chosen families.”
8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![m] Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[n] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God The Christian faith itself is an invitation to re-imagine family, God created the church so that no one would be an orphan in this world.
So, on May 9th, we will celebrate mothers. We will celebrate biological mothers. We will also celebrate all those who have been family to someone in their life — a sibling, friend, niece, nephew, students in a classroom or in a Scout troop, grandmothers, teachers, mentors.
And while Mother’s Day is not on the church calendar, I do think days like this open our understanding of God as that reality at work which sustains, nurtures, and grows us. Such a God we encounter in one another, in families, in that power which — as Rita Nakashima Brock writes — “empowers human beings as social creatures to seek others and deliver salvation.”
Rev. Dwight Welch is the interim minister at Peoples Congregational church in Sidney and also serves at First Congregational church in Savage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.