The exact origins of Mothering Sunday are unclear. Some have even linked it with the spring festivals for various mother goddesses held in ancient Greece and Rome. 

However, it is certainly known that by the 16th century during Lent there was one Sunday when all returned to their “Mother Church” - the main church or cathedral of the area. This custom evolved over the years to become the day when those working away from home, often in service, or as apprentices, returned to visit not only their mother-church, but also their own mother and family. They would bring hand-picked flowers or cake; a precursor to the tradition still observed today of the giving of gifts to mothers on Mothering Sunday. 

By the early 20th century celebrating Mothering Sunday had waned in many places, but the institution of Mothers Day in the U.S brought about renewed interest. This was a cause championed by Mothers’ Union, amongst others.  

By 1938 it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire.

Cordelia Moyse: A History of Mothers’ Union; 2009

Today, Mothering Sunday continues to be celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent.

(The day is also known as Refreshment Sunday, a day when the fasting rules for Lent are relaxed.)

In recognition of the diversity of family relationships in current society, services often include emphasis on the role of “carers” in a child’s life, and there is more awareness of the mixture of reactions the day evokes. For some, a moment to rejoice; for others, whose experience of mothering has been less positive, who have suffered loss or mourn childlessness, a painful time. There is an acknowledgement of the responsibility to be pastorally sensitive, whilst rightfully celebrating the role of motherhood.  

There is, too, the opportunity to explore the concept of mothering in its widest sense; to include mother church, and mother earth – our appreciation of the world in which we live.

Although in many ways, the celebration of Mothering Sunday has become synonymous with the secular holiday of Mothers Day, with all its commercial pressure, for people of faith it is a time to reflect and give thanks. It is also a good occasion to invite visitors to special services to mark the day with the family of the church. 

From its inception, a central part of the mission of Mothers’ Union has been to nurture family life and faith, and to play an active role in the life of the Church. A prime example of this was seen in the early 20th century when Mothers’ Union took up the cause of reviving the significance of Mothering Sunday. 


At the same time it promoted and revitalised another ancient church occasion for celebrating Mother Church and human mothers, Mothering Sunday, which was thought to be under threat from commercialism.

Cordelia Moyse: A History of Mothers’ Union; 2009

140 years later we are still involved in the nurturing of family life and faith, and the many ways in which the Church supports it.

Please use our free resources to help with your faith celebrations 

You can purchase an ethical gift this Mothering Sunday by donating to our Make a Mothers Day campaign