Bishop Paul in Durham Cathedral (Picture: Keith Blundy)


Durham Cathedral Sunday June 11th 2017 


4 million members in 83 countries makes the Mothers Union one of the largest Christian voluntary organisations in the world.

Here in Durham there are 72 branches across the diocese with around 1,700 members.

Yet it all began with the vision of one woman, Mary Sumner, in 1876. Mary saw a particular need in her home parish, Old Alresford, Hampshire, to strengthen and support Christian family life. So she called together the women of all social classes to gather at her home. The vision grew slowly at first but from 1885 onwards it grew rapidly and formally became a national organisation in 1993. Mary Sumner was a woman who in response to God showing her a particular need responded to God’s call by saying, ‘Here I am’.



Today, in this commissioning service, in your own ways, personally and together, Kathleen, Eileen, Ann, Sue, Janice, Margret, Susan,  Carole, Beryl, Doreen, Janice and Ann, you say, ‘Here I am’ to God’s call on you to serve the Mothers Union in this diocese.

It has been Rosemary and my privilege to meet many MU members over the years: here in the U.K. and then in Uganda, Rwanda, Lesotho, South Africa and Burundi. We have seen and heard fantastic work which is helping women discover their full potential in Christ. I think of the doughnut baker in Burundi, the prison visitor in the U.K., the sewing workshop in Uganda, and the gender based violence training in Rwanda. We know that this work transforms not simply individuals and their immediate families but can also transform whole communities.

There is a strength of unity found in this particular Community of Faith which reflects something of the unity for which our Lord Jesus prayed. This unity is in the common knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world. It is in the common vision of showing faith in Christ by the transformation of communities through the promotion of stable marriage, family life and the protection of children.

Whether it be the support of baptism families, offering refuge to women at risk of domestic violence, the provision of emergency hospital bags or the development of literacy and financial management at every turn the MU seeks to stick to its clear vision. It truly remains ‘a grassroots organisation with a global vision’.



So what, I wonder, might God be saying to the MU in Durham, and thus also to the Diocese today?

The diocesan vision of ‘Blessing our communities in Jesus name for the transformation of us all’ clearly sits closely in line with the MU’s own vision for the transformation of communities. The diocesan priorities around Poverty and Children and Young People clearly align very closely with the MU’s calling to promote stable marriage, family life and protect children. So how might we better explore together the place and role of the MU within the diocese in helping fulfil this calling? Might today be one of those moments where, like Moses in the wilderness, God stops us in our tracks, calls us to turn aside and listen to his voice?

Might there somewhere here be a fresh vision which leads to the renewal of the role of the MU in many of our parishes through a fresh vision and calling around blessing the communities in which we are set?

Such blessing and renewal is always rooted in prayer. It is deeply significant that as he faced the Cross Jesus gave so much time to prayer. We have this wonderful prayer for unity and protection in John 17 and then we have Jesus at prayer in Gethesmane and on the cross. So as you leave today, MU members, others here from the diocese, and visitors perhaps from other parts of the UK or elsewhere in the world, you will be given a jigsaw piece.

On this jigsaw piece will be a self portrait of a year 6 child who was here at one of the Leavers services this past week. I ask you to take the jigsaw piece and pray for this child, unknown to you, but totally known to God. Pray for them and their protection, for their family life and their wellbeing. Pray for their move from Primary to Secondary school.

Might it be that one of the key roles of MU groups in the diocese at present is to be those who pray the diocesan vision into reality, especially in relation to children and families?



Moses had no idea what he was getting into when he turned aside to look at the burning bush. He probably regularly thought that his flight from Pharaoh’s court after committing murder meant that his life was confined to simply being a shepherd. God had different ideas for this man. God still calls us all to be open to just where and what He might call us to be and to do, whatever our age, past, or current circumstances. May the MU, and may we all, always be ready to respond to God’s call by saying, ‘Here we are, here I am.’

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