[Anglican Taonga] The trade union movement was born out of the struggle to improve the often desperate plight of working people in 19th century England – and that movement has had the most far-reaching political consequences.
What’s not so well known is that the 19th century also saw the birth of another union movement which has also had profound significance – at least as far as the Anglican Communion is concerned.
We’re talking about Mothers’ Union, the society Mary Sumner founded in 1876 to inspire women of all social classes – and that inclusion was fairly radical, back then – to support each other in bearing the burdens of motherhood, upholding the vocation of motherhood, and upholding families.
Mary Sumner convened the first meeting of Mothers’ Union in her home – the rectory at Old Alresford, near Winchester – but at the last moment she was so overcome by nerves she got her husband George to step in and lead.
Mary overcame her nerves for the following week’s meeting – and her passion and drive for the cause was such that she became the first international president of a movement which now has four million members in 83 countries.
Need another witness?
If [persuasion is still needed] about the significance of Mothers' Union, then there’s the testimony of Archbishop Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury. He described Mothers’ Union as the Communion’s fifth ‘Instrument of Unity’. In other words, he reckons Mothers’ Union has become one of the pillars of the Anglican Communion.
All that by way of background to what took place in St Mary’s-in-Holy-Trinity in Auckland last Sunday afternoon, where perhaps 250 people gathered to hear the Worldwide President of Mothers’ Union, Mrs Lynne Tembey, deliver the biennial Mary Sumner Lecture.
Lynne Tembey, who is English, said that Mary Sumner had not “made up a need – she saw one.”
And with “vision and commitment she had stepped out in faith” to meet that need. She had three areas of focus: Upholding a high vision of parenthood and the nurturing of children; encouraging those within her community to live out their lives in faith – while focussing every effort through the lens of prayer.
“Has that vision changed in 2015?” Lynne Tembey asked, rhetorically – and then answered her own question:
“I believe not.”
Do thou by thy spirit quicken...
Mrs Tembey then did a quick survey of Mothers’ Union works of support and solidarity for families she had seen first hand during the course of her presidency, in settings as far flung – and often poverty-stricken – as Myanmar, Kenya and Barbadoes.
She also quoted Mary Sumner’s personal prayer: “All this day, O Lord, let me touch as many lives as possible for thee, and every life I touch do thou by thy spirit quicken, whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe, or the life I live.”
To which Lynne Tembey added her own testimony: “God has enabled so much on my Christian journey,” she said.
“To be the elected Worldwide President of this life-giving, life-changing organisation is such a privilege and truly humbling experience. I look forward with hope and with joy to what God has planned for me in the future.
“He has never failed me.
“I cannot fail him”.