Words we say from the pulpit and church parking lots matter, Hagan observes.
Do you think your church is kind on Father's Day?
Most of us would say, yes, of course!
Yet, for men who long to be fathers and are not, for any who have a difficult relationship with their biological fathers, or those who have lost their fathers too soon, Sundays like Father's Day can feel brutal.
- We preach solely to the fathers in the sanctuary.
- We ask all the fathers to stand up and receive a gift.
- Talk carelessly about joyous Father's Day plans after church.
Real life is so much messier than this, isn't it? Death, loss, divorce, miscarriage, failed IVF treatments or adoptions are all a part of what it means to love a father or be a father.
And the words really do matter. Words we say from the pulpit and church parking lots matter. Words form theology, even if we do not intend them too. Which is probably how Father's Day jumped from a Hallmark holiday to a religious one.
As a pastor who struggled with infertility myself and who listened to others who are struggling with other forms of loss, the words I hear over and over about Father's Day are this: "Please talk about me. Don't leave my story out on Sunday. If you do, we'll come to church."
Churches need to acknowledge this Sunday the grief that the day holds for many. And celebrate the vast array of expressions of what fatherhood looks like in our society (not just biological children).
So to help with the words that might be said in your church on Sunday, below is a prayer I have used on many occasions. Feel free to borrow or adapt in a way that fits your congregation's needs this Sunday:
"Fathers meet us in some very different ways, and today we celebrate them all. Thank God for the gift of fatherhood.
"For those men who have left this earth and who we dearly miss. Thank God for the dads whose legacy remains strong.
"For those men for whom we had or have difficult relationships with as fathers. Thank God for being our dad when we needed you the most.
"For those men raising their children now making sacrifices - rising early to make lunches, picking up from soccer practices and tucking kiddos in bed at night. Thank God for the dads whose pace is so hectic today.
"For those men who have taken in others' children through adoption and foster care, showing us that the love of God far extends beyond biological ties. Thank God for the dads with vision to include.
"For those men who have lost a child to death or want to have a child and know they can't without much trouble carrying on with the pain of lost dreams, often not being able to talk about it at all. Thank God for the dads who carry heavy burdens.
"For all the men in our community, who nurture us, support us and guide us in our becoming and who show by their examples the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Thank God for the dads who love unconditionally.
"We thank you, Lord, for the men who have influenced our lives in so many ways. And lift our voices in your name, O heavenly Father in whom we adore. Amen."
Elizabeth Hagan is the author of "Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility" and lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, blogger and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care. A version of this article first appeared on her website and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @elizabethagan.
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles for Father's Day 2017.
Previous articles in the series are:
4 Ways Your Church Can Give Dads Their Due
6 Ways Your Church Can Get Father's Day Right