Mothers of Faith

BY GALEN HOLLEY

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tomorrow will be the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day. This week, mothers from around Northeast Mississippi spoke of how they’ve passed along their faith to their children and recalled some of their favorite mothers in the Bible.

Guarding values

As keepers of the household, mothers have traditionally been considered guardians of family values such as sharing, truthfulness, and cooperation.

Tamara Trice is a Sunday school teacher for ages 3-6 at Greater Faith Full Gospel Baptist Church in Tupelo. She said that, “Those values need to be voiced more in contemporary society.”

Trice is the mother of three and grandmother of seven. She said that many African-American mothers are faced today with the challenge of raising children – particularly boys – alone. Trice works in the Verona Public School System. Everyday, she sees the effects of single-parent homes.

Trice said that her own mother’s table was always open to neighborhood children. “She taught me to care for less-fortunate children,” said Trice. “All children deserve love and attention. That’s what mothers do well.”

Trice said she tries to pass along to younger African-American women lessons of prayer and stability. “A good Christian mother will do what she has to do, whether or not she has a man in the house,” said Trice. She quoted Proverbs 22:6 as her scriptural inspiration: “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Ollie Janice Scales has taught music at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo for over 10 years. The youngest of 15 children, Scales emphasized the central role of mothers in uniting some of the larger, extended African-American families. Scales has three children of her own, as well as three step-children and nine grandchildren.

“Mothers – women – make a house a home,” she said. “They do the simple, holy things – like making the beds, cleaning, and cooking – that create a loving environment for their families.”

Scales said that her favorite mother in the Bible is Hannah, whose story is told in the Book of Samuel. “She was devout and persistent in her prayer,” said Scales.

Educating others

Dot Rieves, mother of three and grandmother of six, taught for 25 years in the Tupelo Public School System. She said that mothers have always taken a prominent role in education, both inside and outside the home.

Between herself, her husband, Bill, and their two daughters, Rieves counts “135 years of teaching in Mississippi,” and “96 years in the Tupelo Public School System.” She also taught her children’s Sunday school classes at Harrisburg Baptist Church.

Rieves considers herself a mother to all the children she’s taught. “Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to hear from a former student,” said Rieves. She has a particular soft spot for those who, despite hard-fought efforts, weren’t “A” students. “Sometimes, the C’ students are the workers,” said Rieves.

Today, Rieves teaches the senior adults’ class at Harrisburg. “My oldest student is 103,” said Rieves. “My youngest is 86.”

Rieves said that she admires the biblical mother, Lydia; her brief appearance in Acts 16: 14-15 relates how she opened her home to Paul and the other missionaries.

Trice of Greater Faith also spoke of her maternal feelings for the school children in Verona. “I have hundreds of kids,” said Trice. “I try to show them affection, that I care about what’s happening in their day.”

Tracy Wolfe, a member of Jewish Temple B’Nai Israel in Tupelo, works in the office at Milam Junior High School. “Some of the kids just gravitate toward me,” she said.

She also mentors a young girl through Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Mississippi. “She’s a very nice girl and it’s my pleasure to be there for her,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe makes it a point to educate her son, Skylar, in the traditions of his Jewish faith. Lately that includes making sure he’s learning his Hebrew in preparation for his Bah Mitzvah in October. As for her favorite mother from scripture, Wolfe named Rachel, the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph. “Rachel had great strength,” said Wolfe.

Images of motherhood

Scales of Rising Star said that, when she thinks of her own mother, Lura, she remembers her singing. “Around the house, in the yard, at church; she loved to sing,” said Scales. “The first song I learned to play was Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,’” she recalled. “Mother was very proud of me.”

At the yearly family reunion, music continues to bring the Scales family together – from places as far away as New York and California. Scales credits her mother with instilling that love of music.

The Rev. LaRae Rutenbar, interim rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, refers to herself as “Mother LaRae.” The mother of two, Rutenbar has been a priest for 28 years. She said that, for her, the term suggests parity in titles for ministers.

“In meetings with male priests, they’d go around the room and say Fr. Smith, Fr. Brown, and…LaRae,” said Rutenbar, laughing. “Perhaps my using Mother LaRae’ will make people reflect upon the titles that we use for religious leaders and the expectations that we give to them,” said Rutenbar.

Rutenbar is aware that, for people who’ve had bad experiences with a mother or father, using those terms for ministers might be unsettling. “I hope their relationship with me can begin to redeem those titles, that language, in some way,” said Rutenbar.

Rutenbar describes herself as a nurturer; “Mother LaRae,” she feels, expresses that part of her personality. She added, however, that men today also do a fine job of nurturing. “Perhaps mother’ is not embodied so much in a person as in a role,” said Rutenbar.

When asked to name her favorite biblical image of motherhood, Rutenbar recalled being with the family of a teenage boy who had just been advised to discontinue life-support. “The mother told the staff, I held this boy when he came into the world; I want to hold him as he departs,’” said Rutenbar. She watched as the mother took a seat in a rocking chair. The nurses lifted the dying boy and placed him in his mother’s arms. His limbs draped limply about her as she rocked him.

“I went out into the hallway and saw a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Pieta’ – Mary, holding the dead Jesus,” said Rutenbar. “I thought, There is what motherhood is all about.’”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510
or galen.holley@djournal.com.