THE BEGINNINGS OF MOTHERS UNION IN THE NEWCASTLE DIOCESE
Mrs Blanche Dunlop, writing in "Mothers' In Australia And New Zealand" in 1934 records the birth of the Mothers' Union in Newcastle Diocese.
In the summer of 1907 Mrs Stretch, the wife of the Bishop of Newcastle, invited interested women to attend a meeting at Bishopscourt at Morpeth. Present, along with the Bishop and Mrs Stretch were Mrs Canon Ramm of St Peter's Hamilton, Mrs Craven, Mrs Vellacot, Mrs Scott, Mrs Berkeley and Mrs Dunlop.
Bishop Stretch explained that the meeting had been called in answer to a request from the English Executive of the Mothers' Union, "in furtherance of the expressed desire of that body to ultimately extend its branches to every part of the Empire". The bishop briefly outlined the objects of the Mothers' Union and spoke of his desire to see it established in the Diocese, where parish could be linked with parish through its agency and home linked with home through the interest and influence of its members.
At this time Mothers' Union had three objects:
- To uphold the sanctity of marriage
- To awaken in all mothers a sense of their great responsibility in the training of their boys and girls - the fathers and mothers of the future.
- To organize in every place a band of mothers who will unite in prayer and seek by their own example to lead their families in purity and holiness of life.
Even though little has been written of the years immediately following this meeting, Mrs Dunlop clearly states, "that first meeting was the definite beginning of the Mothers' Union in the Diocese of Newcastle".
Mrs Stretch was appointed the first secretary, with Mrs Craven as the first treasurer and with the Bishop himself (of course) in the chair. Perhaps the reason why little is known of those first years is due to the ill health of Mrs Stretch which led to her death in 1914, and the slow means of communication between England and Australia.
It is recorded that the first admission service took place at Christ Church Cathedral on June 2nd, 1917 which suggests that the Cathedral branch was the first formed.
The Diocesan Council was formed in 1922 with Mrs Stephen as the first Diocesan President. It is interesting to note that it was not until Irene Booth became Diocesan President in 1967 that someone, other than the wife of the Bishop, had held this position of leadership.
Newcastle Diocese always seemed aware of just how very inflexible rules were in the earlier days. Imagine the sorrow of women from broken relationships and women unable to have children. At one stage there was a motion to the Australian Commonwealth Council recommending that associate membership be extended to elderly childless women and that a separate card be issued.
- 1922 - 1927 Mrs. R. Stephen
- 1928 - 1930 Mrs. G. M. Long
- 1931 - 1958 Mrs. F. de Witt Batty
- 1959 - 1966 Mrs Moira Housden
- 1967 - 1973 Mrs. Joy Holland
- 1986 - 1988 Mrs. Elizabeth Appleby
- 1989 - 1991 Mrs. Robyn Southerden
- 1992 - 1997 Mrs. Angela Butler
- 1998 - 2003 Mrs. Judy Ford
- 2004 - 2009 Mrs. Carole Harvey
- 2010 - 2017 Mrs. Laurel Brook
- 2018 - Mrs. Denise Brown
In Mary Sumner’s footsteps: the story of Mary Sumner
It all started when Mary, married to George, Rector of the Parish of Old Alresford, was passionate about transforming the home-lives of Parish families, by helping the women to support one another in raising their children.
Her husband was very supportive: "just share your heart – God will do the rest."
She was so nervous at the first meeting of the parish women, that she refused to speak, and asked George to take her place. In those days, it was very unusual for a woman to be a public speaker. However, George encouraged her to speak from the heart and it went so well that she found the courage to speak at future meetings. Her talks were inspired by her faith – it was practical and down to earth – "Remember, Ladies, to be yourselves what you would have your children be".
After groups with women became well established, she was asked to speak to the men of the Parish. Again, she was apprehensive, but agreed, and helped them to be more aware of what their wives did for them, to show more respect and love.
The meetings grew, and included women - old and young, rich and poor. Others heard about her work, and started groups in their own areas.
In 1876, she founded "the Union of Mothers" – with a membership card and promise: "to be given up, body and soul, to Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism, and that your duty is to train your children for his service".
In 1885, at a time when it was still unheard of for women to speak to large audiences, Mary Sumner was invited by the Presiding Bishop to speak to a packed church congress session for women in Portsmouth. He anointed her with the authority to speak - he felt that he had no authority to speak to a group of women whose prime concern was to get enough food on the table so that the children would not starve. She overcame her nerves again. "Together, by the Grace of God… we can calm each other when we are afraid; strengthen one another when we are weak; and work together to raise our children to the glory of God. Unity is strength".
The movement grew further, increasingly with the support of bishops, internationally as well as in England. Some key principles were developed, including:
That the prosperity of a nation springs from the family life in its homes
That family life is the greatest institution in the world for the formation of the character of children
That faith is the foundation of family life
That the tone of family life depends upon the married life of the parents – and ultimately, that example is stronger than precept
As the movement continued to grow, Mary Sumner asked herself what its purpose really was, and what it should strive for. She reflected: "A true home should be a light-house, shedding its quiet beams far and wide" – her dream was for every home to be filled with the light and love of Jesus, and for the movement to unite many hearts in many lands, nurturing healthy environments for little children.
And she was a living example of what she preached. From 1900 onwards, she and the members started to advocate on issues of key importance to families and children – she campaigned to stop children collecting alcohol from public houses for their families, and for the age of marriage for girls to be raised from 12 to 16. She was not afraid to speak up on difficult issues, despite resistance from members of the establishment.
She was also not afraid to act outside the social norms, to do what she believed to be right. At a time when unmarried girls with children were condemned and cast out, she cared for and protected her niece and her illegitimate son.
When she died in August, 1921, 4,000 women attended her funeral, which was a service of Thanksgiving. The last memory was one of her, on her feet in the sunlight, praising God.
She could not have conceived how the seeds which she planted would grow into a movement 4 million strong today, of members in 83 countries putting their faith into action to nurture healthy relationships in families and communities and to fight for social justice.