NO MATTER how family is reshaped or redefined by social change or circumstance through the centuries, it remains a “gift from God” and a source of hope, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. “Family is the base of society, the Church in micro-form, the training ground for generosity, for courage, for community life, for stability, and, above all, for hope.”
Archbishop Welby was delivering a sermon at a service at Winchester Cathedral on Thursday of last week, celebrating 140 years since the founding of the Mothers’ Union, of which he is a patron. The Anglican charity was founded in the diocese by Mary Sumner, in 1876, to offer support to new mothers of all social classes. Today, it has more than four million members in 83 countries who are working to support families and communities.
More than 2700 of these gathered in the cathedral for two services of thanksgiving, including 42 members of the Mary Sumner Choir from Lusaka, Zambia, who led some of the worship.
The morning eucharist was led by the Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Revd David Williams.
Comparing the Mothers’ Union to an army, Archbishop Welby, who presided at the afternoon eucharist, said in his address: “It faced the plague of HIV/AIDS in much of Africa, and produced grass-roots solutions. It is a powerful voice in education, both formally and informally — both in scholastic education and the education of Christian values and family life.”
The needs of the family had not changed since its foundation, he said. “Mary Sumner acted out of concern not only for her own family, but for a country in a terrible situation in which children were not nurtured, women were at risk, households were not stable, and the Church was not doing very much about it, other than preaching. You will see the parallels with today.”
Strong family values and mutual support should be treasured as “a gift of grace” in the modern world. “I know from myself that there is nowhere I can take my failures as safely as around the table in the family,” he said. “And I know, having grown up in a different environment, a different sort of household, what a gift of grace that is.”
Archbishop Welby dedicated a prayer to the Mothers’ Union praising its “dedication and faithful witness”. It was published in the order of service alongside letters of congratulations on its anniversary. The Queen, who is also a patron, wrote: “I send my sincere thanks to all those who have contributed to the Mothers’ Union over the years, and send my best wishes for the continuing success of a charity that has given hope and strength for many.”
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, wrote: “The faith, prayer, activities, and resilience of your members have made a difference to millions of families and communities, and your life-bringing model of ‘Christian faith in action’ sets an example for us all.”
Several anniversary celebrations and services have been held around the dioceses including on Mothering Sunday (6 March), Lady Day (4 April), and Mary Sumner Day (9 August), and throughout the year. Members of the Mothers’ Union have also abseiled, walked, stitched, held book and cake sales, and played 140 holes of golf to help reach its £1.4-million fund-raising target to support 500,000 people in its anniversary year.