Ahead of Father's Day, Natalie Collins shares how we can avoid stereotypes and be more sensitive on Father's Day.
It is difficult to avoid the approach of Father’s Day as card and gift manufacturers and restaurant chains go all out to remind us that we should spend money in their establishment to celebrate our father. A quick survey of the Father’s Day cards in my local supermarket leaves the lasting impression that card manufacturers assume that fathers are all beer drinking, cricket playing, football watching, fishing enthusiasts who wear ties while being overly windy bottomed. Of course, card manufacturers are not known for their nuance and basing any judgement of a group of people based on the greetings cards available for them may not be a particularly wise thing to do.
Yet, when it comes to days of celebration – Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter – it’s very hard for the church not to be influenced or led by cultural messages about those days. For instance, Mothering Sunday was originally a day in the liturgical calendar to return to the “mother church”, possibly connected to Galatians 4:26: “But the Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
Most church leaders dread leading services on Father’s Day (and on Mother’s Day) and I have much sympathy with them. There are so many complexities within families; there are step fathers, absent fathers, bereaved fathers, fathers who have passed away, and there are abusive fathers. There are men dealing with miscarriage, navigating IVF, infertility, fostering and adoption or the cultural taboo of choosing to not have children. Father’s Day may be particularly raw for lots of people. Yet church leaders have to balance sensitivity towards these people alongside the expectations of those who have had a wonderful experience of fatherhood, either being a father or being parented by a good dad. Those people want to spend the day celebrating, and may be reluctant to be reminded about the difficulties others are struggling with on such a positive day for them and their family.
It can seem tempting to fall back on stereotypes about fathers to keep the mood light. Church leaders may trade in caricatures about men (and women) in order to build rapport with the congregation, and yet church services on Father’s Day can be a great opportunity to create spaces of both celebration and reflection. This Father’s Day, make a resolution to steer clear of inappropriate jokes about “dad incompetence” or pushing ideals of manhood which involve men being emotionally shut down or having to be physically strong. Those ideals contribute to suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Instead, may our churches be places of refuge and peace for those struggling on Father’s Day. May our services be led sensitively, for the benefit of all those in the congregation, not just those who have much to celebrate on Father’s Day.
To help church leaders this Father’s Day, I have developed a free Father’s Day Church service ideas pack in partnership with The Resource. It provides principles for running a service and has some comprehensive activities that can be run either in all age services or services where the children have Sunday school. Encouraging churches to include themes of worship, celebration, reflection and considerations around society and culture, the ideas pack may enable Church leaders to approach Father’s Day feeling more confident and less apprehensive. For we have a perfect father in heaven, a saviour who knows our pain and our joy and the Holy Spirit who brings us to healing and newness of life.