The Rev. Shirley Renee Franklin, left, with her son, the Rev. Victor Cyrus-Franklin, at Inglewood First United Methodist Church on Nov. 4, 2018, in Southern California. Courtesy photo

Pandemic leads churches to celebrate motherhood creatively this Sunday

(RNS) — The Rev. Victor Cyrus-Franklin remembers his mother getting him and his siblings ready for Sunday service.

She’d have to delegate who was doing whose hair, help them find missing socks and everything else in between to have them dressed and ready for church. His father, a public school teacher, would be up early delivering the Sunday paper to help make ends meet. So on certain Sundays, his mom was responsible for, as Cyrus-Franklin describes it, "the mad dash trying to get out of the house to get to the church."

This was on top of her getting ready to preach.

His mother, the Rev. Shirley Renee Franklin, is a pastor at Dixon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville and has served a number of churches across Tennessee.

"I better appreciate it now than I could have then," Cyrus-Franklin said.

And, this Sunday on Mother's Day, she’ll virtually lead the service for Cyrus-Franklin’s congregants at Inglewood First United Methodist Church in Southern California. It'll be a worship collaboration with her Nashville church and will be broadcast on YouTube and Facebook Live.

To Cyrus-Franklin, being able to worship with his mother is an example of how COVID-19 "has created a whole different opportunity for us to collaborate and share in ministry together."

At a time when many churches cannot yet publicly gather, pastors and faith leaders are finding creative ways to honor motherhood this Sunday.

Megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, will be hosting a Mother’s Day drive-in service. This will be Harvest's first-ever drive-in service, which will be held in the parking lot of its Riverside campus.

"It just kind of worked out that way,” said Harvest pastor Greg Laurie. "We wanted to do a drive-in service and Mother's Day was coming. We thought, 'This is a good day to do it.'”

When Harvest announced its drive-in plans and asked congregants to RSVP for a parking spot, there was so much interest they added a third Sunday service at 7 a.m. The other two services will happen at 9 and 11:30 a.m. and have already filled up.

"The response to our service has shown there’s a real interest in this,” Laurie said.

Laurie said holding drive-in services is the first phase of Harvest's reopening in the wake of COVID-19.

Typically on Mother's Day, Harvest would hold an in-person service acknowledging the importance of mothers. Laurie's wife would say a few words, while he would deliver a special message or dedicate a part of his sermon to mothers. 

"It's one of the days of the year when church attendance goes up, and ironically Father's Day is the day when church attendance actually goes down," Laurie said.

At Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the Rev. Maggie Burbank Yenoki will host a virtual and interfaith message to honor motherhood.

Burbank Yenoki, an interfaith minister, said they will seek to honor mothers, those who wish they were mothers, and "those who mother us no matter what their gender — all of the different aspects of what the word 'mother' can mean," she said.

The online service will start with a child ringing a bell to honor the past, present and future. Burbank Yenoki will offer liturgy and play The Great Realisation: Hindsight 2020, a story by British writer Tomos Roberts that gives a hopeful outlook to life after the pandemic.

Tahil Sharma, an interfaith activist, will be the featured speaker.

Sharma, who grew up in a Hindu and Sikh household, practices Shaktism, a branch of Hinduism that sees the goddess Devi as the supreme deity. He'll be speaking about the feminine divine and his own relationship with his mother.

"I have a very deep relationship with my own mother," said Sharma, a regional coordinator of North America for the global United Religions Initiative. "She's been one of the main bedrocks of my life who has informed a big part of my understanding of religion."

To Shirley Renee Franklin, it's important to honor the women who played a role in her children's lives. She strongly resonates with the African proverb "It takes a village."

"There have been other people, other women who've been those other mothers in the lives of my children," she said.

She recognizes those who lent her daughter an ear when she may have been unable to do so or the "mother in ministry" who helped Cyrus-Franklin explore his leadership style when he was just starting out as an assistant pastor in Georgia.

She'll touch on that in her sermon Sunday.

"God is our mother, made known to us through many different women in different ways," she said.

For Cyrus-Franklin, seeing ministry done by a woman impacted the way he leads his church. He didn't want to pastor the same way he saw the other men do it.

"I don't gravitate toward being the center of attention," he said. "Not to say that's the way all men work; there's a difference, I think, in women clergy."

Cyrus-Franklin remembers when his mother took them out of school to instead march with labor organizers in support of designating Martin Luther King Jr. as a federal holiday back in the '80s. To Cyrus-Franklin, this was an example of his mother saying 'you're going to learn more here experiencing this. ... This is your classroom.'

He also thinks of the Rev. Minnie Robinson, his "mother in ministry" in East Point, Georgia. 

"She was the first one to give me an opportunity to really be free in all the crazy ideas I had," Cyrus-Franklin said. "She was like, 'I might not be the one in the streets fighting for fair utility rates, but you go out there and do that. I'll support you.'"

She died recently from complications related to COVID-19, Cyrus-Franklin said.

"I see this season as a season of celebration and also because we're in the midst of COVID and some failures that are going on ... there's a lot of grieving going on," Cyrus-Franklin said.

"It's important for us to come together to find strength in power ... to continue and hear the call of God and respond to that call to have that kind of caring spirit for life," he added.