More than four hundred people – the vast majority of them women – crammed into Christ Church, Strabane on Wednesday evening for the Mothers’ Union Derry and Raphoe Festival Service which celebrated 130 years of Mothers’ Union in Ireland.
The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, officiated, along with the Bishop’s Curate in Camus-Juxta-Mourne, Rev Mark Lennox, who led the worship. The Chaplain of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union, Rev Canon Harold Given, also took part in the service.
During the service, the Diocesan President of Mothers’ Union, Mary God, presented Canon Given with a basket of items including a trauma teddy, a neo-natal knit, a Bible, a purple and yellow ribbon and a Foyle Child Contact Centre leaflet as symbols of initiatives that Mothers’ Union had undertaken in the diocese and beyond.
The address was given by a former Worldwide President and Derry and Raphoe Diocesan President of Mothers’ Union, Lady Christine Eames. Lady Eames paid tribute to the Mothers’ Union’s founder, Mary Sumner, who she said was “far ahead of her time” – and to Annabelle Hayes who brought the Mothers’ Union to Ireland.
Lady Eames said the organisation founded by Mary Sumner was now a large, international organisation of Christian women. “Around the world,” Lady Eames said, “the global organisation is alive and thriving and bringing the Christian faith and the Christian gospel to many thousands of people in such a diversity of situations.”
“When we celebrate an event such as this,” Lady Eames said, “where people are at the very centre of it, it’s people who are Christ’s hands and his work in this organisation.”
The congregation were invited to consider how Mothers’ Union had evolved since its foundation and of the changes that had confronted the organisation over that time. “Think not even of 130 years but of five years, ten years,” Lady Eames said, “think of the technology and the totally different world we live in today. Think of the world that our grandchildren, our children, our young people inhabit with such ease, and think of how we are so stretched to meet them in that technology and in that world. The wars, what that meant to families, how families were disrupted, how faith was tested to its limit – all those things form the backdrop for this organisation we celebrate today”.
Lady Eames suggested that a celebration was empty if it didn’t look at least a little bit to the future. “What is the future for the Mothers’ Union?”, she asked. “What is the future for it as a worldwide organisation with such diversity of membership, in such different corners of our world? What has the member in a refugee camp or a member in a camp for displaced persons got in common with you and with me, as we worship the same God in this church tonight? What unites us?”
When they left Christ Church after the service, Lady Eames said, the rectors and the clergy and the bishop would go back to their work, and to their roles of leadership of the Church, but what would the congregation do to try to take something of the essence of the service back with them into their everyday lives? What did faith in action really mean, she asked?
Lady Eames said they could all do something to put faith into action. “It doesn’t have to be very big. It doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to be a great big project. Projects that touch you and me can be just small, simple things: asking someone lonely to our own homes for a cup of coffee, a cup of tea; not being impatient in a supermarket when the person in front of us seems to go on and on talking to the girl at the check-out.
“Faith in action doesn’t have to be about great big actions but those actions are rooted and grounded in our faith”. Lady Eames said the lessons in the Bible readings were very uncompromising – “there are no ifs and buts” – but she asked that faith would spur them to action as they left Christ Church and went back out into the world, knowing they were part of a living movement and of a living, loving church.
During Wednesday evening’s service, Bishop Good commissioned seven members to office in the Mothers’ Union, including three vice-presidents: Kay Clarke, Elsie Stewart and Jean Thompson. “This is a joyful and important occasion,” the Bishop said. “Each office carries great responsibility, for the Mothers’ Union is a worldwide society within the church with special concern for all that strengthens and preserves marriage and Christian and family life”.
The service was a colourful affair, with banners from more than 30 local branches paraded into Christ Church at the beginning of the service and out of the church again after it had ended. In between, members prayed – among other things – for all those who had been affected by hurricane Irma in the Virgin Islands, the Caribbean and southern states of the USA. They prayed, too, for the people and parishes in Derry and Raphoe that had been affected by the recent flooding.
The Festival Service was a special occasion in more ways than one: the MU Diocesan choir performed publicly for the first time, conducted by Jacqui Armstrong and accompanied by May Boyd on the piano. Music was also provided by the Britannia Concert Band, under the baton of Stewart Smith.
After the service, members of the congregation walked to the adjoining parish hall for refreshments. Lady Eames and Bishop Good cut a cake which had been baked specially to mark the occasion. Mrs Good recapped on an active and successful year for the Diocesan MU. The Worldwide and Irish presidents, Mrs Lynne Tembey and Mrs Phyllis Grothier, had both visited the Diocese for the MU Way service in May, and members had also taken part in five Agape meals in various parts of the diocese in the earlier part of the year.