By John Armistead

Daily Journal

Last Sunday morning during the worship service at Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Satillo, 103-year-old Sister Willie Sargent sat with the Mother Board at the front of the church. The Mother Board is composed of the older women of the congregation. Sister Sargent, the oldest of the mothers, is the Mother of the Church.

The choir sang a third selection, and Sister Sargent swayed gently back and forth, her hands keeping pace with the rhythms of the music and her lips mouthing the words.

Suddenly, Sister Sargent’s eyes shut and her hands jerked up and her voice sang out in ecstasy. Other women moved quickly to her side, reaching forth with loving and protective hands as the elderly saint surrendered herself to the Spirit.

The Rev. H.B. Sadler, pastor of Mud Creek, leaned over to me and said with a grin, “Look at that. A hundred-and-three and still shouting.”

Sister Sargent has a lot to shout about. She has 15 children, 55 grandchildren, 87 great-grandchildren, 45 great-great-grandchildren, and six great-great-great-grandchildren. Every first Sunday of the month, as the members of the Mother Board line up to receive communion, they wait until Sister Sargent takes her place at the front of the line. She then moves forward to take the bread and the cup first, followed by the other mothers, who are in turn followed by the congregation.

Recognizing mothers

From ancient times, people have felt a need to pay homage to those who brought them into the world. The concept of motherhood was recognized as sacred in many ancient religions. The growing prominence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in early Christianity probably reflects this felt need. As churches in Northeast Mississippi hold special services Sunday to recognize mothers, they follow in an ancient heritage of paying homage to mothers.

Mother’s Day is a major celebration at New Chapel United Methodist Church in Planterville. “All the mothers will wear white dresses and most will wear white gloves on Mother’s Day,” said the Rev. Ida Price, pastor. “We’ll give them all flowers or gifts of some kind, and the mothers will take care of the program that day.”

Flowers will also be given out at Wren Presbyterian Church where the Rev. Sandra Sisson is pastor. “Every mother, even the preacher herself, gets a red carnation,” she said. “And the oldest and youngest mother get two carnations.”

The oldest and the youngest mothers will also be recognized at Lawndale Presbyterian Church in Tupelo. The Rev. Timothy Fortner, pastor, stresses the importance of the day, saying it is one of the four or five days of the year when the church should have a special emphasis during the service.

Sermons on motherhood

The text for many pastors Sunday will probably be Proverbs 31, a passage which describes the ideal Hebrew woman. “I’ll bring a Mother’s Day message,” said the Rev. James Wilson, pastor of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo, “and I’ll preach about good mothers like Hannah and especially the mother of Jesus, Mary.”

Price says she will probably preach from the Proverbs passage. “I’ll emphasize how mothers are to be guided by the Lord Jesus,” she said. Price feels being a preacher who is a mother is a plus when it comes to delivering Mother’s Day sermons. “There are a lot of little things that women think about that men don’t,” she said.

Being a mother and a pastor has led Sisson to solid convictions about the significance of the role of a mother. “To me, being a good mother is the most important job in the world,” she said.

She feels God called her first to be a good wife and mother and then secondarily to be shepherd of the flock. “There’s always a time when things in the church have to come first,” she said, “like death or dire illness or a crisis, but for the most part, my husband and my son come first.”

Broadening the concept

Recognizing the multiple difficulties families face in today’s changing world, many denominations, such as Southern Baptists, have used Mother’s Day as a springboard to emphasize wider family concerns.

“One thing I do during the month of May through Father’s Day is preach on the family,” said the Rev. Terry Cutrer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Baldwyn. “We need a lot of application of biblical principles to family life.”

On Mother’s Day itself, like an increasing number of Southern Baptist churches, the Baldwyn congregation will have a Parent-Child Dedication Service. “The biggest thing is the effect it has on the parents if they really understand what they’re doing,” he said. “My kids are teen-agers now, and there’ve been many times when I’ve looked back on that service and remembered what we did.”

More than once a year

Several churches, like Mud Creek, pay tribute to the older mothers of the congregation on a continuing basis. On communion Sunday each month, the women wear white and sit together.

Crossroads Christian Methodist Episcopal Church near West Point honors both its older men and women on communion Sunday. “The elderly women all sit together down front on one side,” explained the Rev. Ernie Wright, pastor, “and the elderly men sit together down front on the other side. At communion they all come up together to receive it first.”

Crossroads, like Mud Creek recognizes its oldest member as Mother of the Church. “She is Sister Rosie Walker,” said Wright.

A mother of the church

Willie Sargent, Mud Creek’s Mother of the Church, was born on a farm in Dorsey 103 years ago. She’s not sure how many brothers and sisters she had. “Some of my sisters told me there was about 20 of us,” she said.

Sargent, who shares a house in east Tupelo with one of her 55 grandchildren, still tries to do a little work around the house. “Sometimes, I try to straighten things up, and like to get out there and sweep the front porch.”

She doesn’t care much for vegetables, but prefers macaroni and cheese and chicken and dressing. “I like chicken wings and chicken backs when I can get them,” she said. “Seems like they eat better.”

Sargent is the joy of her huge family’s life, and seems to be a dynamic fulfillment of the Fifth Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

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