Mothering Sunday

This coming Sunday, the 11th March, is Mother's Day (also known as Mothering Sunday) in the UK and Ireland.

There seem to be different definitions of when Mother's Day occurs around the world. In the UK and Ireland (and also Nigeria) it always happens on the Fourth Sunday of Lent – also known as Laetare Sunday.

Laetare Sunday (or Refreshment Sunday) is traditionally the one Sunday in Lent when you're meant to relax your Lenten austerity – and also your Lenten fast – so stock up on that chocolate and booze now! And in church it's one of the two Sundays in the year when the priests wear rose (or pink) coloured vestments.

The reason it's called Mothering Sunday seems to date back to a 16th-century tradition of Christians visiting their mother church annually on Laetare Sunday. Children would return to their home towns, and as such to their families, so there would be some focus on returning to their mothers.

However it wasn't until World War II that US soldiers brought the entirely secular celebration of mothers on Mother's Day to the UK – and as such the two traditions merged.

One of the traditions I'm personally very fond of is the making of simnal cake on Laetare Sunday, a light fruit cake with lots and lots of marzipan in it, and then decorated on top with 11 marzipan balls – to symbolise the 12 apostles (minus Judas).

How many days are in Lent?

Lent is the penitential season of fasting and prayer that runs from Ash Wednesday until just before Easter.

The problem is that the length of Lent doesn't quite add up. It's often described as being 40 days long, but if you count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and the day before Easter Sunday, it's 46 days.

The church says "Ah, but you don't count Sundays, because you don't need to fast on Sundays". And by removing the 6 Sundays from the 46 days, you do indeed get 40 days. But then how is that meant to correlate with the time that Jesus was fasting in the wilderness? Did he have a day off on Sundays?

And what about the fact that Jesus was meant to return to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, a full week before Easter? That's 40 days (including Sundays), but that's not what any Christian denomination teaches as Lent. The Catholic church says that Lent runs until Holy Thursday or Good Friday, and the Protestants says it runs until Holy Saturday!

12th Day of Christmas

The Christmas decorations are meant to come down on Twelfth Night, which is on the evening of the 5th January. But when was the Twelfth DAY of Christmas?

From doing numerous searches in Google and on Wikipedia, there seems to be disagreement about when the 12 days of Christmas start and end.

My understanding was always that Christmas Day was the first day of the Christmas season in the church calendar and, by counting forward, the 12th day of Christmas would fall on 5th January. The twelfth night would be on the evening following the 12th day – on 5th January.

However, some other sources suggest that the First Day of Christmas isn’t Christmas Day itself – they say the First Day is on Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s Day) on 26th December – and thus the 12th Day of Christmas is actually the 6th January (the feast of the Epiphany). However those sources (including the Oxford English Dictionary) place the Twelfth Night as the evening before the Twelfth Day – on the 5th January.

But how can you have the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany overlapping like that? Surely that can’t happen. The seasons of Lent and Easter don’t overlap. The seasons of Advent and Christmas don’t overlap. So how can the 6th January be the last day of Christmas and the first day of Epiphany?

Church Websites

I was just reading a very interesting article in the Church Times entitled What's the point of a website (subscription required), which talks about the shocking state of many church websites. It says that in England last year, although two thirds of all churches had a website, the majority of them were out of date – and many lacked even basic details such as a contact phone number or service times.

I remember maintaining several different versions of the Old Saint Paul's website (June 2000, March 2005, May 2007) before the site was handed over to Lucent Web Design a few years ago to design the current version, which still think is one of the best church web sites around. Check it out at: osp.org.uk

OSP website from 2005
OSP website from 2005

The parish has had a web site of sorts for around 17 years.  Indeed, we registered our domain name back in 1998, when almost no churches had a web presence.  And over the years, along with all the crazy page designs, one thing has remained constant: an emphasis on audience and freshness.

There's nothing worse than visiting a web site that doesn't contain the information you need, or that information is out of day. And so, for a long time time, the various maintainers of the OSP website have been mindful of what information people are looking for.  In the case of Old Saint Paul's, we were serving a number of distinct audiences:

  • Regular Congregation Members – who are looking for parish news, information on upcoming services, rotas, music lists, and so on.  They want to rely upon the website giving them fresh and accurate information about what's coming up, which helps them integrate into the community of the church.
  • Visiting Worshippers – the church attracts a lot of visitors, and we want to make it easy for them to find out where we are, what to expect when they come, and what dates/times the services are on. If someone is making a special trip to visit us, we don't want them to be disappointed.
  • Curious Researchers – people who may even have no intention of visiting the church, but want to find out a little more about the architecture, history or its liturgy.

In every version of the web site, we've tried to address the needs of these different groups, and provide the information required. This requires diligence and commitment from those involved, and a buy-in from the top people in the parish – and it requires constant maintenance.

Too often other churches view the creation of a web site as a one-off project; such that it gets built and then forgotten about. In contrast they should view their web site as akin to their weekly service sheet or parish magazine – a resource that everyone in the parish wants to use, in order to get their message out.

OSP website in 2012
OSP website in 2012

Women Bishops

In the Anglican Communion there have been women bishops consecrated in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Southern Africa and the United States.  The following provinces have also voted to allow women bishops, but have yet to consecrate one: Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Sudan and Uganda.  Source: Wikipedia

The Church of England, however, voted yesterday to disallow women bishops. The vote was somewhat divided, as all the ordained people (bishops and priests) voted in favour of women bishops, and the non-ordained people (laity) voted against it – and under general synod rules all three houses (bishops, priests, and laity) must approve a vote by a two-thirds majority.

It seems that there is a sizable minority of church-goers in England who – for some reason or other – can’t stand the idea of their bishop being a woman.  I can’t understand it myself.  What has gender got to do with how well someone can perform their role?

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