Clipping the Church
Location: Church of St. Laurence, Upwey
St Laurence, Upwey, near Weymouth
Mothering Sunday, also called "Mothers' Day" in the United Kingdom and Ireland falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). It is believed to have originated from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families. As a result of secularization, it is now principally used to celebrate and give thanks for mothers, although it is still recognized in the historical sense by some churches, with attention paid to Mary the mother of Jesus as well as the traditional concept 'Mother Church'.
'Clipping the Church' at Upwey in 1970
The custom of ‘Clipping the Church’ as it is called, is a dance-like ceremony in which the parishioners join hands and move around the outside of the church in an unbroken ring often singing a traditional clipping hymn. The word "clipping" is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and is derived from the word "clyp-pan", meaning "embrace" or "clasp" and thus is an expression of devotion to the Mother Church, although the tradition is sometimes held on Easter Monday or Shrove Tuesday. As is so often the case with traditions like this, Clipping the Church finds its origins in pagan times and has probably descended from the Spring Equinox festivals.
Currently, there are only a few churches left in England that hold this ceremony like St. Peter's Church, Edgmond, and St. Mary's Church in Painswick. The Church of St. Laurence at Upwey also revived this tradition in 1962. An account of this custom was featured in a local newspaper 'Why they are 'Clipping' the Church', March 1970.
"The Mothering Sunday Celebration, pictured above is called Clipping the Church and was performed at Upwey Parish Church, Weymouth, yesterday for the eighth year after the revival of the tradition.
The Rector, the Rev. A. Leslie Jones, explained that the ceremony arose from an Epistle in the Bible which referred to the Church as the "mother of us all." The tradition was an "embracing" of the mother on the fourth Sunday in Lent.
About 100 people attended a short service before the ceremony which posies brought by the children were blessed and presented to their mothers.
Then the concregation went outside, linked arms and walked or danced around the church."
An earlier revival in nearby Preston featured a Clipping the Church ceremony in the Dorset Evening Echo 8th March 1961
"The ancient custom of “Clipping the Church” was observed at the picturesque village church of St Andrew’s at Preston, Weymouth, yesterday – Mothering Sunday.
The ceremony was revived nine years ago, is intended to symbolise the family character of the Christian church. The church was nearly filled and the service conducted by the new Vicar, Canon W. J. Smith, assisted by the Rev E.V. Tanner.
Children and their parents filed out of the main door, headed by the choir and joined hands to completely surround the church.
Moving round it continuously they sang the hymn “All things bright and beautiful.”