A mother’s work of patient shepherding and self-giving love closely mirrors God’s own care for us. But parenting young children can be a difficult task, and the demands on energy and schedule can be isolating. That’s why support and fellowship among mothers can be a deeply powerful ministry. It not only can provide rest, rejuvenation and strengthening for moms to do their work, but it also can reconnect them to a community of those in similar circumstances and to the broader “village” of support.
The mothers’ community becomes, in a way, an “organ” in the body of Christ. In connecting to this community, moms—and their families—become more aware of their greater membership in Christ’s body.
EPIC Moms was born when a few mothers began a discussion with members of the clergy and lay community in the Richmond area, including staff members of the Diocese of Virginia and local churches. Michele Burt, of St. Thomas’, Richmond, remembers the origin of the name, EPIC: “I was thinking, ‘this will be epic if it really comes to fruition!’ We started working with it and created an acronym for ‘Episcopal Parishes in Communion’ to support moms.”
Burt adds, “Due to many years of infertility, I had painfully watched so many of my friends have this amazing experience of forming families together. But when my family formed 10 years after everyone else started, I felt a void not having a group to share it with. I felt like the Church should be a natural place to find that fellowship. But there was not something already in place to provide a more intimate walk with other moms. I wanted something that met on a regular, predictable schedule since I work part-time.”
Michele connected with friends and colleagues who shared and supported her desire to create a moms’ group, including Stephanie Workman, now a member at Reveille United Methodist Church; Whitney Robertson, also of St. Thomas’, Richmond; Pete Nunnally, director of adult formation and youth ministries at St. Paul’s, Richmond; and Susan Buchanan, rector of St. Thomas’, Richmond. The group grew to include other clergy and lay contributors, as well as diocesan staff.
Since no individual parish had enough moms to create a strong group, it became clear that an inter-parish group, based in The Episcopal Church but open to any members of the community, would be the most effective. The absence of one church “home” created challenges, as there wasn’t a single source of fiscal and administrative support or childcare. So the steering committee had to get creative and reach out to a variety of sources. The Diocese served as the hub of EPIC’s finances, facilitating the compensation of qualified childcare workers, who were recruited from a number of church nurseries within and outside the Diocese.
Funding came from registration fees paid by EPIC members, from the Diocese and from local churches, including St. Paul’s, St. Stephen’s and St. John’s, all in Richmond. While logistics occasionally got complicated, this diocesan approach created an opportunity for parishes across the Richmond area to contribute to the spiritual growth of local moms.
Burt, Workman and Robertson planned crafts, contacted speakers, got the word out and recruited childcare workers. The group began with a “soft start,” meeting twice at St. Paul’s in the spring of 2015, and continuing with playdates and a “mom’s night out” over the summer. In addition, the moms volunteered periodically at the St. Thomas’ food pantry, taking turns with childcare while others assisted shoppers. During the 2015 to 2016 program year, EPIC met alternately at St. Paul’s and Christ Church, Glen Allen, twice a month for two hours on Tuesday mornings.
Gatherings opened with a devotional or a prayer and continued with a time for fellowship, followed by a speaker or craft. Programming included topics such as meditation with kids, engaging children spiritually during the Advent season, early literacy, and communicating love to one’s spouse and children. Members hail from a variety of area parishes, not all Episcopal, and some do not consider themselves religious at all.
Member Annie Turner of St. Stephen’s, Richmond, says, “I love the camaraderie we’ve built throughout the year. There is an ease and comfort to our conversations and sharing, even as we explore more challenging questions of motherhood, marriage and spirituality.”
Next year, EPIC will continue to nourish these vital members of the body of Christ and hopes to grow in membership and impact. Meetings will take place at St. Stephen’s, Richmond, and the group will continue to seek support and membership from across the Diocese. Members also plan to meet for informal fellowship, playdates and volunteering over the summer.
“I always leave our meetings feeling rejuvenated, engaged and ready to face the next challenge,” says member Ellen Coyner. “I thought the group would offer opportunities to learn and socialize—and it has—but more than that, the group renews my efforts to be my best self.”
For information about joining or supporting EPIC Moms, email Michele Burt at Micheleburt@gmail.com
By: Whitney Robertson
An ecumenical wife and mom, Whitney Robertson attends St. Thomas’ Episcopal and St. Mary’s Catholic churches in Richmond with her husband and two small children. She trained for parenthood as a Shrine Mont Music and Drama Camp counselor and trained for life as a Music and Drama camper.