Photograph by Liv Bruce via Unsplash

What I learned from my mother for ministry

My mother was the oldest daughter of a pastor. Recently, I visited a cousin. He showed me family photos I’d never seen. One picture showed my mother and her siblings. Mom must have been about 14. She’s at least 8 inches taller than her next brother, 17 months younger. I felt a burst of compassion for them both. As the pastor’s kids, they were in the public eye. How many people made comments to one or both of them about this disparity? 

I know my mother was sensitive about her looks. She was overweight when she was young. She didn’t date as a young woman. She didn’t marry my dad until she was in her 30s. She was socially uncomfortable outside church settings. Mom’s two younger sisters were more fashionable and sophisticated than she was. One year, Mom told me she wasn’t going to her sister’s birthday party. It was a milestone birthday with a big guest list. “I don’t know what I’d wear,” she said. “I’ll go shopping with you, Mom,” I said. But she wouldn’t go.

Like Mom, I can get anxious about how I look, and about parties. I inherited some vulnerabilities from her. But I also inherited some strengths. Rabbi Edwin Friedman used to ask, “What gifts did your parents give you?” Here are some qualities that I learned from my mother that helped me as a pastor. They help me now as I minister to pastors.

I inherited some vulnerabilities from my mother. But I also inherited some strengths. Here are some qualities that I learned from my mother that helped me as a pastor.

  1.   To do what I say I’m going to do. My mother was absolutely reliable.
  2.     To be organized. Every Sunday morning Mom gathered what she needed for her responsibilities at church.
  3.   To anticipate what’s coming. She wasn’t a worrier, but she liked to plan ahead.
  4.   To welcome people to church. My mother was a bit anxious as a hostess in her home. However, she was wonderful at reaching out to newcomers at their church.
  5.   To be accurate. My uncle told a story at Mom’s memorial. He remembered my grandmother, mother, and aunt all sitting in a pew. They each picked up the church bulletin and a pencil and circled the typos and grammatical errors!
  6.   To have a disciplined devotional life. When we cleaned out my parents’ home, I found stacks of her notebooks. I discovered she recorded her thoughts regularly during her daily Bible reading and prayer.
  7.   To love the Bible. My mother read the Bible through many times in her life. She could recite Scripture almost to the end of her life. She wasn’t a scholar, but she had an encyclopedic knowledge of Bible content.
  8.   To love church music. Even after much of her memory was gone, she remembered the words to hymns. She also understood that church music needed to evolve for new generations.
  9. To support the church financially. She and my father gave more than a tithe for years.
  10.   To listen. After she died, a cousin told me he always felt like he had her full attention when they talked.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate these gifts that my mother shared with me. I use them daily. Thank you, Mom!

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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