According to Lynne Tembey’s granddaughter, her job as worldwide president of Mothers’ Union (MU) involves “holding the world in her hands.”
Lynne is president of four million members in 83 countries around the world who work to support families and children. The world is not quite in her hands – but her organisation has been working since 1876 to live out faith in countless communities, she says.
“We don’t try to do the great big things, but the simple and effective things. We reach out in lives wherever we are.”
She gives many examples. Literacy and numeracy programmes in Malawi help empower women. One woman had a story about not wanting to be cheated when she shopped in the market; learning to read and count helped her do that.
Another told a fatal story of giving her child too much medicine because she could not read a label on a prescription.
In Barbados members helped set up breakfast programmes so children are fed before school, ensuring their work and their marks have improved. “One day they might be the leaders of their country,” she says.
Membership of Mothers’ Union is open to anyone who has been baptised and who promises to uphold its mission. Mary Sumner whose husband was a vicar founded the movement in England in 1876. She was passionate about promoting the role of parenting and nurturing families.
The MU group at St Mary’s began over 80 years ago and besides supporting overseas projects it helps local at-risk youth, teen Mums and the Monday Pukeko Stomp group run in the cathedral’s Peace Hall.
United Kingdom members do a wide range of things such as carrying out prison work, helping with parenting programmes, providing literacy and financial education, and supporting campaigns such as the Bye Bye Childhood campaign that challenged the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.
While the Union’s ageing membership was a concern, new members continued to join and Lynne had met those who were excited by what they heard and experienced. “I’m always encouraging people to tell the story of Christ, to inspire them to walk alongside it.
“We can’t be all things to all people but what we can do, we can do well.”
Lynne visited New Zealand in May 2015, accompanied by The Rev Iritana Hankins, provincial MU president. During her time in the country she spoke at Taranaki Cathedral.