[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] More than 3,000 members of the Mothers’ Union will gather from all corners of the globe tomorrow (Thursday) to celebrate the mission agency’s 140th anniversary. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the patron of the MU, will preside at a service of celebration and thanksgiving in Winchester Cathedral in southern England – the burial place of the MU founder Mary Sumner.
The MU has grown from its 1876 roots as a small parish-based support group for the women of Old Alresford – the parish where Mary Sumner’s husband, the Revd George Sumner, was Rector – to a global organisation today of more than four million members in at least 80 countries.
Queen Elizabeth II, one of the MU’s patrons, has expressed her best wishes for the “continuing success of a charity that has given hope and strength to so many.”
Mary Sumner created the group in her parish after becoming aware of how difficult many women found the burden of motherhood. It was intended to offer mutual support and bring together women to support each other across the social classes.
Nine years later, Mary Sumner spoke at the Portsmouth Church Congress about the importance of national morality and the need for mothers to work together to bring positive change to the nation. The speech resulted in a number of other parishes adopting Mothers’ Union meetings. The Bishop of Winchester created a diocesan organisation to act as an umbrella; and the model was soon adopted by the dioceses of Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle.
Today, the MU continues to promote the role of mothers as a catalyst for positive change in communities across the world.
Even in the early days, the MU had a radical approach to solving society’s ills. Mary Sumner supported Hope Cottage, a refuge for women trafficked into prostitution. It was established out of a desire to support rather than vilify women who were forced into prostitution.
“This led to Mothers’ Union adopting a strategy of ensuring that the organisation was able to advocate for what helps overcome such situations – namely strong, happy marriages,” the MU said. “To think of being an example to ‘working class women’ seems outdated to our 21st century culture – but in its day reaching outside class for unity and empowerment of all women was progressive and done to help girls avoid dangerous situations.”
Today, the MU continues to campaign for women’s rights and in particular, for gender equality – in relationships, in communities and cultures – and how this is reflected in national law and attitude. It is also campaigning against abuse and violence against women and girls.
The Mothers’ Union “Mary Sumner Choir” has travelled from Zambia to sing at tomorrow’s service; where they will be joined by representative members from all over the world including the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda.
The following day (Friday), a newly commissioned play by the Saltmine Theatre Company will receive its premiere at the MU’s General Meeting in Basingstoke.
“Family life is under increasing pressure and the call on our resources is higher than ever,” MU chief executive Beverley Jullien said as she outlined plans to invite members and staff to make practical pledges to enable the MU to double the number of beneficiaries it reaches. “Together we are on a journey of change, which will ensure that we remain as relevant and valued in the future as we were 140 years ago.”
Currently, the MU and its worldwide team of volunteers transform the lives of more than half a million people every year. They hope the new pledge campaign will enable it reach one million people every year by 2021.