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General Synod: Mothers’ Union is tea and cake with a mission

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


The Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union, Sheran Harper, gives a presentation to the General Synod, on Friday

The Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union, Sheran Harper, gives a presentation to the General Synod, on Friday

THE first non-British Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union, Sheran Harper, gave a presentation to the Synod on Friday afternoon.

Her mission, she said, was to take on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s challenge to make the Mothers’ Union (MU), which was “the best-kept secret of the Anglican Communion”, visible throughout the Communion and beyond. Now 142 years old, and operating in 84 countries with four million members, it was the world’s oldest and largest women’s movement: “I believe our success is due to members’ being driven by a love for God and all humanity.”

Among the stories that she told was that of Gloria, in the Amazon, who had experienced years of domestic abuse, but had gone on to become a village councillor. In South Sudan, the Provincial MU President, Mama Elizabeth, had brought women together from warring tribes, who, by the end of their meeting, were “healed and inspired, singing and dancing, and exchanging phone numbers”.

In the diocese of Chichester, members were supporting both parents and staff at a baby unit, including those who had lost a baby. “We do so much more than serve tea, coffee, and cake; it is tea, coffee, and cake with a mission.”

She continued: “Mothers’ Union is like the fertile soil that accepts us just the way we are. It nurtures us and helps us to grow and discover gifts and talents we never knew existed — and, even better, uses them for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.”

In recent years, the MU had conducted a global consultation, culminating in a council in Rwanda last month. “Wherever we are in the world, the core remains the same: we want to make changes in gender justice, peace, safety, and helping people to help themselves. . . Very deeply rooted in our heart is a strong urge to restore relationships, with God, ourselves, each other, and the environment.”

Her greatest desire was for “even closer working relationships and partnerships between the clergy and the Mothers’ Union at parish, diocesan, and provincial levels. . . I strongly believe that together we can move mountains and achieve above and beyond all we can ever ask or imagine.”

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn (Southern Deans), asked Mrs Harper about her hopes for Lambeth 2020. She expressed the hope that “everybody who is supposed to attend will attend, by the grace of God, and that we will unite and discuss what needs to be discussed and come up with decisions that can only move our Church forward.”

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) asked how parishes could encourage greater participation and set free the ministry of the MU, which he saw as a “vowed community”, but “hidden away and their gifts wasted”.

Mrs Harper wanted to emphasise that “Mothers’ Union is alive in England, it is alive in the UK; but they are working quietly in the background. . . I am taking on the challenge to make this work visible.”

Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together) spoke of an MU member whose husband was deaf. Was the MU working with and for deaf people?

Mrs Harper described a parenting group attended by people who were blind, deaf, and dumb. “For us, they are not challenged at all: they are gifts given to us by God.”

Canon Mike Booker (Ely) spoke as a “convert” who had seen the “amazing work” underway by the MU in Wisbech. How could perceptions be changed of those who misjudged it? Mrs Harper said: “You just have to see the work of the Mothers’ Union globally.”

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, reported that the MU was the largest membership organisation by far in his diocese. Its members did “an amazing amount of work”, but were also quite elderly. This had always been the case for the MU. “How do we encourage the Mothers’ Union to be both the ‘Grandmothers’ Union’ and to generate that younger Mothers’ Union that they so long for?”

Mrs Harper described becoming a member at the age of 25, and thinking of her fellow members as “the golden-age girls”. They had “nurtured” her. To attract younger members, it would be necessary to go to them rather than expect them to attend meetings. “Many young women are facing challenges of career and a young family. Many of them don’t have the support of parents or extended family.” There was a need to engage them in “the kind of projects and programmes and work that will also excite and inspire them”.

As a Communion Guest, under a recent change to Standing Orders, she was also able to contribute during debates at the Synod.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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