I have noticed a steady increase over the past several years in the number of articles and social media posts about whether and how churches should observe Mother’s Day.
This year, I noticed that similar posts about Father’s Day have remained steady – at zero.
In case it was just me, I asked around. Only a few people could point me to Father’s Day-related posts.
One of those was an essay by Kali Freels called “Hallmark Just Doesn’t Get It.” Freels lamented the fact that there are no greeting cards for the relationships she has with the two father figures in her life.
It made me wonder: Does the church get it?
The annual wave of Mother’s Day posts – as well as some of my own experiences in church – indicates that churches are coming to recognize that Mother’s Day is complicated for many people, and they are trying to be sensitive about it.
Are there any churches out there that recognize that Father’s Day is complicated too?
Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be painful. It can vividly call up the loss of a father or of a child. It can be agonizing for those who want to be fathers but, for whatever reason, are not. It can be brutal for those whose fathers are or were abusive.
Even if it’s not painful, it can be complex. The usual church platitudes and celebrations of fatherhood may not apply to some father-child relationships any more than a typical Hallmark card. The act of worship becomes strained when the elements of worship feel like they don’t apply.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas I have about what churches can do on Father’s Day and throughout the year as we try our best to “get it.”
1. Give Father’s Day the same attention you give Mother’s Day.
Whether it’s a big deal, a quick mention during announcements or no attention at all, don’t assume that Father’s Day isn’t as emotionally charged (positively, negatively or both) as Mother’s Day. For many people, it’s just as important, if not more, as its May counterpart.
2. Allow people to feel however they feel.
Although I’ve previously wished that churches would simply ignore both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether, I’m no longer sure that’s the best way to handle these “Hallmark holidays.”
The feelings we carry with us into church on those days don’t disappear just because there’s no mention of mothers or fathers.
Maybe it’s better to acknowledge the day in a way that also acknowledges the wide range of emotions that may come with it.
3. Let go of traditions that put people in awkward or difficult positions.
Think about the Father’s Day traditions your church observes. How might they affect someone for whom Father’s Day is painful or complex?
One such tradition is wearing a red or white flower to church on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – red if your parent is living, white if your parent is deceased.
As a child with two living parents, it was fun to get to have a flower to wear. As an adult who has now lost a parent, the last thing I want to do with my grief is pin it to my lapel. Even though it’s not a secret, it’s not something I want to advertise either.
4. Let fathers know that it’s OK not to fit the Hallmark – or the “traditional American Christian” – mold.
Although many churches cling fiercely to prescribed gender roles within families, the truth is that healthy parenting happens when you do whatever works best in loving and providing for the children.
In my household, my husband makes the kids’ lunches and does the laundry far more often that I do simply because that’s what works best in this stage of our lives. That doesn’t make him less of a father; it’s part of what makes him a great one.
5. Give fathers real parenting support.
Parenting is hard – for moms and for dads. Give fathers space to ask questions, vent their frustrations, celebrate the good moments, receive empathy and learn.
6. Support the fathers in the community and around the world who don’t have the resources to care for their children that many of us do.
It really does take a village to raise a child, and being an active part of that village is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.
Julie Ball is the church administrator at Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. She is also a full-time student and mother of two boys and writes as often as she can. You can follow her on Twitter @gottabejulie.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles for Father’s Day 2017.
The previous article in the series is: