For mothers and grandmothers
Yesterday I met a friend, her sister, and her three children for a walk through the woods. The four-year-old had long legs and sprinted for two miles. Her two-year-old brother was not far behind me, racing to keep up with her, and behind us came their aunt, their nine-year-old brother and their mother Colleen who had already taken them to swimming and dance classes, located missing shoes, changed diapers, investigated the watering system in the arboretum (most interesting to the oldest boy), and cooked and packed a picnic. After the walk, or run, she took them to hear Celtic music in the Rose Garden. In all that time, she never raised her voice.
Colleen has a support network, which leads me to Mary Sumner.
In 1885, Mary Sumner’s idea flew from the diocese of Winchester to Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle, and then throughout the United Kingdom. By 1892, there were 60,000 members in 28 dioceses, which grew to 169,000 members by the turn of the century. The idea takes a moment to explain.
Mary Sumner (31 December 1828 – 9 August 1921) was educated at home, where she learnt to speak three foreign languages and to sing. Visiting Rome to study music, she met her future husband George Sumner, and they married when she was nineteen. Mary raised three children, and helped her husband, an Anglican priest, in his parish at Old Alresford, Hampshire.
She was 48 when she was reminded by her daughter’s experience as a new mother how challenging motherhood could be, and she invited mothers in her parish to meet, to offer mutual support. It was a daring plan in 1876 because it asked women of all social classes to support one another, and to see motherhood as a calling as important as the professions held by men - perhaps more important.
The first meeting was held in the rectory, but Mary was so nervous her husband George had to speak for her. By the next week, she had found her voice, and led the meeting. The support group flourished, but only in Mary’s parish. It was nine years later, in 1885, when Mary was part of the audience in the Portsmouth Church Congress, that she rose nervously, and spoke passionately about the vocation of mothers to raise their children and change their country for the better.
Women who heard her went back to their parishes to found mothers' meetings on Mary’s pattern – interdenominational gatherings involving women across the social spectrum who focused on family problems and deepened their spiritual lives through fellowship, study and prayer. The Mother’s Union was born. Mary served as chair until well into her eighties, talking to large meetings around Britain, and encouraging branches in New Zealand, Canada, and India.
Today the Mother’s Union has more than 3.6 million members in 78 countries and a worldwide network of volunteers.