Missionary Diary: What to say on Father's Day?

Brendan is an assistant minister (with a focus on young families and evangelism) at St George’s Anglican Church, Bluff Point – a northern coastal suburb of Geraldton, Western Australia, with a population of around 1400 residents. Brendan, his wife Laura and their three sons moved there almost three years ago. They are financially supported by Bush Church Aid.

I stand up the front on Sunday and survey the sea of faces in front of me. It’s Father’s Day and there are a myriad of stories about fathers and their children in our church. What do I say? We don’t make a big thing of Father’s Day at our church, but we try to acknowledge the fathers who are there in a way that is sensitive to those who have experienced strained relationships with their fathers or children. Saying something helpful really depends on who is in the room. So what are the stories of the people in our church?

Some of their stories are incredibly heartwarming. There are some wonderful new fathers in our church who, despite the sleepless nights and stinky nappies, keep doting on their precious bundles of joy. The bags under their eyes are may be dark, but the love they have for their little ones is incredibly strong.

There are other amazing fathers in our church who are in a completely different stage of life. Their kids have grown up, left home and moved away to the city. But despite the distance, these fathers have strong bonds with their kids. They get the FaceTime call in the morning, some get presents from their kids and some years, their kids even come up to visit. Their children are happy to do so because they have fond memories of a dad who was loving, available and who was there for them when they needed them.

There are many wonderful stories in this room. But as I look around, there are many heartbreaking stories too.

Many of these dads were incredibly godly fathers who pointed their kids to Jesus by praying for them regularly, opening up the Bible with them at dinner times, dropping them to youth group and by taking them to church on Sundays. There are many wonderful stories in this room.

But as I look around, there are many heartbreaking stories too. There are men in our church who long to be fathers, yet for many years they have been facing a grueling battle against infertility.

There are fathers sitting there whose hearts hang heavy as they have been estranged from their children for quite some time. For them, every Father’s Day is another painful reminder of what could have been.

There are also sons and daughters in our church who find the celebrations of Father’s Day agonising, as they are stung by the grief of having lost their fathers to the cold hand of death. And there are fathers who sit there in sadness, having lost children before their time.

St George’s Anglican Church, Bluff Point, WA

St George’s Anglican Church, Bluff Point, WA

As I look out at that sea of faces, what do I say to a room of people that is such a strange mix of rejoicing and scars? It’s hard to know. I find it hard to know. But I need to say something. So what I have planned to say is something like this:

“Welcome to church, it’s great that you can be here today. And to all the fathers in the room, happy Father’s Day. It’s a good thing to celebrate the fathers who are here today. We want to honour you for all you do.

“Yet I also know for many of you here today, that every year Father’s Day is a difficult day for you. Some of you are grieving the loss of fathers or children who have died, some of you are longing to restore relationships with kids or with your father. And for some of you, today is a painful reminder of your battle against infertility.

“If that’s you today, we are so glad you are here. Today is painful. I’m so sorry about the pain you’ve gone through. Yet I hope today you will experience the love and comfort of God – the God who is a compassionate, kind and faithful Father. The God who loves his children more than they could ever comprehend. I hope today you will see and feel how much that God loves you. Let me pray to that God as we begin our time together …”

I don’t know if those are the right words, but I hope they will be sensitive and supportive to those who are grieving on this day, while also being honoring to those for whom Father’s Day is a celebration.