Me and Mothers’ Union
“What does Mothers Union say to you?
Until recently I thought it was a cosy social club for older ladies who enjoyed knitting and cake. My eyes would slide over the table display in church. I am not ready for this yet I thought, then a leaflet caught my attention “16 days of activism – a campaign concerning gender based violence”
Eh!!! Edgy and radical! Suddenly – Mothers Union didn’t sound so cosy.
I explored some of the other literature.
- “Labelled For Life” – A pamphlet describing how advertisers target our children turning them into young consumers.
- Away From It All Holidays- Providing holidays for families experiencing stress.
- Big wheels – raising money for transport in Africa.
There is a successful MU group in church – “Just A Bite”. However, it meets in the afternoon when some of us are collecting children from school.
I was approached by an MU member in church about setting up another group at a more convenient time. We decided on the first Wednesday of each month at 9.30 am.
We have a group – now what shall we do?
Out of curiosity, an opportunity for a night away and for inspiration, I decided to join Marlene on a Mothers Union conference – Mapping the Future – held at Brunel Manor in September.
I was apprehensive about what was to come. It was my first night away without family since the children were born. I would not be there in the role as someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister but my own person. I hoped I would fit in.
We were met at the station and given a lift by a lovely lady called Monica and were privileged to share our lift with Lynne Tennby the world wide ambassador for Mothers Union. I relaxed as we began chatting and looked forward to an interesting weekend.
Brunel Manor is a Christian retreat and conference centre on the outskirts of Torquay. A beautiful house set in tranquil grounds with a lovely view of the sea and the warm welcome we received put us at our ease.
The conference was led by Felicity Hawke, Provincial President, Canterbury province. A packed programme began with a warm welcome and opening prayers followed by ice breaking games that showed us that people had travelled from places as far as Canterbury and Cumbria to attend the conference. Around 20 of us attended representing 20 dioceses. The group shared what they found most inspiring about Mothers’ Union. This included fellowship, the wave of prayer, its campaigns and work in the community. There followed an outline of the work that Mothers’ Union does today.
Mothers’ Union is a grass roots organization that has over 4 million members worldwide. They are usually established by women to address the needs in their local community and as a consequence the work each group does is very diverse. We heard humbling stories of how groups have helped people of all faiths and none. The family who have lost everything in a fire and turned to Aunty Sophie the local Mothers’ Union leader for help. She led them to a shed containing a huge pile of clothes and food that she had collected. They were allowed to choose what they needed to start again. The woman who turned to Mothers’ Union after her brother died, who provided her with a goat and a mattress. She was incredibly grateful saying, “I never thought that I would sleep on a mattress”.
Mothers’ Union are also very active in the UK, supporting families in practical ways through their toughest times. One member was approached by a special care baby unit. The nurse asked “Can your group knit blankets in different colours?” She replied “Yes I am sure they can. Why?” The nurse continued. ”We have a certain number of power points and different machines and we often have to move the babies around. Parents come in to visit and go to the place they last saw their baby and find another. They become anxious and ask where their baby is. We could give each baby their own colour blanket so, that the parents can look for it when they come to visit.”
The group went on to produce blankets in a variety of designs for the unit and provided two of each so that one could be washed whilst one was being used.
They also support prison visiting and one Mothers’ Union group even set up a guide and scout group in one prison. They help families who have experienced difficult times by offering free “Away from it all holidays”, support womens’ refuges by providing toiletries and basic resources and establish contact centres that allow estranged parents a safe, supervised setting in which to spend time with their children. Mothers’ Union are not afraid of the hard parts of life.
Mothers’ Union are also politically active on a global scale. They are one of the few NGOs invited to take seats on the UN. They have run campaigns protecting children from the excesses of consumerism – Bye Buy Childhood. Their campaigns promote literacy in developing countries – especially for women, improve transport links in developing countries – Big Wheels for Africa and campaign against gender based violence – 16 days of activism. Also in this country, every government white paper concerning marriage or families is passed to the Mothers’ Union for consideration and politicians listen!
This is all underpinned by a wave of prayer. Where Mothers’ Union members pray for each other at lunchtime each day.
Great work! What’s the problem?
The second day of our conference focused on the future. Dreaming Dreams. The delegates were asked to think about how they might reinvent MU if starting from fresh. They liked the campaigning, prayer, fellowship, meetings, parenting advice, empowerment, the world wide element and community outreach work.
However, the Mother’s Union has been described as the best kept secret in the Church of England.
Why is this?
This is where I began. Some people felt that Mothers’ Union was not celebrating its success and promoting its relevance in today’s world. People who had long links with the church and the organization felt that they needed to be invited to be part of their group. So how inviting are we to those from outside?
We discussed what the future held and what barriers prevented the Mothers’ Union from growing. In common with the church, the organisation has an ageing population. We need younger members to breathe new life into our projects and build on the good work that has been done.
So what gets in the way?
Discussion brought out some common concerns.
- The name Mothers’ Union
“You have to be a mother to join right” – No
“You have to be a woman.” – No
“You have to be married” – No
The reality is anyone can join – yes even men – as long as you have been baptized in the trinity – but try explaining that, given the name.
- The structure
Some people were confused by the different types of membership offered and the structure of the organisation. It was also felt that the core mission of Christian help for families needed to be clearer. Mothers’ Union is a grass roots organisation and the change starts with us.
So, how can you be part of the change?
Simple, come along to “Just A Bite” or Wednesday Break Away.
“Wednesday Break Away” is a new group open to all. We meet every first Wednesday in the month for fellowship and fun activities and welcome suggestions for future events.
Our programme looks like this!
– Wed Dec 2nd 10 am – Joint Advent service with Just a Bite
– Wed Jan 6th –9.30 Knitting for newbies- never picked up a knitting needle – me neither – let’s have a go at this beginners session.
– Wed Feb 3rd – time tbc – tea and cake at Mr Miles
– Wed March 2nd – Flowers- what to do with a mixed bunch – Flower team
– Wed April 13th – 9.30 Talk by Jo Morling – Lay preacher
– Wed May 4th – 9.30 talk by Jane Tibbs on Family and community
– Wed June 1st – Family Picnic in Vivary Park 10 am– Bring and share
– Wed July 6th – Joint event with “Just a bite’ 10 am – quiz and bake sale
Everyone is welcome- yes even men!
Look out for our new campaign display in the foyer beginning on 25th November. St Mary’s MU are taking part in 16 days of activism – highlighting gender based violence around the world. This campaign ends on Thursday 10th December – Human rights day – with prayers at 10.45 am led by our vicar, Rod Corke.”