Thursday, 10 February 2011

To Belong or not to Belong?

I have often been asked, 'Why don't you join the Mothers' Union?' To which my answer has always been, 'Well, I'm not a mother!' The response, these days, is usually, 'Well anyone can join if they support family life!' So why don't I join this band of folk who work and pray so hard? The answer has to do with something my father taught me - namely, that, if you join something, you should, at some level, work for it. You should try to do something that makes a small difference. My life, so far, has mainly been about supporting working people and people in education and health care and about work place issues and relationships. I married in my late thirties and much of my focus has been on being single, whatever that means, on being a two adult unit and on being the one in the family who doesn't have children but relates to nieces and nephews and godchildren and elderly relatives and friends. That gives you a different but complimentary perspective on the place of the family in society. I have also worked a lot in parishes where many families were single parent units. I have helped to deliver babies and taught children and loved doing this, but I have always felt called to relate to those outside 'traditional' family structures and I am much more at home with youth work than with school gate culture! But that doesn't mean that I don't value family life and appreciate the fundamental difference loving, nurturing and supportive parents make to their children - there can surely be no greater gift than to give your children the love they need to face life. I am also amazed at the work teachers undertake!

The Mothers' Union do a job which is often undervalued and underpublicized. When I worked in an area of great poverty, it was the Mothers' Union that sent whole families on seaside holidays, organized respite for carers, and ran 'mother's help' services for mums who just needed that bit of assistance after a new baby was born or when a child or parent was in hospital. In the parish at Nuthall where I was priest, Lady Day was always a big celebration and it was moving to see the support and friendship groups of women had given to each other over many, many years.

But, did you know that the Mothers Union has special consultative status at the United Nations? They attend and contribute to the yearly worldwide gathering of the Commission for the Status of Women (founded in 1946) and there are members present from many of the 192 states across the world?  Topics debated and therefore brought to the attention of politicians and governments since 2000 include the elimination of violence and discrimination against girls (eg. the 'leaving to die' of female babies), the role of gender equality in making poverty history (the advancement of women in health care and education meaning that poverty will be more effectively tackled in families), women's particiaption in peace and international security initiatives and politics, the prevention of violence against women and the eradication of poverty and HIV.

The Mothers' Union are well placed, globally, to campaign for the UN Millenium Goals and to report on the causes of some of the problems these goals seek to address
  • the elimination of extreme poverty
  • universal primary education 
  • reduction in child mortality
  • improvment in maternal health
  • combating HIV and other preventable diseases
  • ensuring enviromental stability
  • developing global partnerships.
Added to this, I would say that, from the many students, ordinands  and women priests I  have taught from Africa, Asia and Melonesia, they would urge the MU to further develop its stance against domestic violence and the denial of educational opportunity to women. This sometimes means taking on the governing structures of their own churches and they need our prayers and active interest.

Find out more on 
or go to the Ripon and Leeds MU branch newly launched site at

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