Lynne Tembey feels so passionately about the Christian work that the Mothers’ Union does that at one point during our conversation, whilst talking about a particularly sensitive subject, she becomes tearful.
“Our Union members are ordinary, every day people doing extraordinary things for God,” she says, summing up perfectly the nature of those involved with this world-wide organisation, which is renowned for its endeavours across the globe in all kinds of causes, from humanitarian to fellowship to emotional and spiritual support.
She adds with feeling: “My dream would be that every person in the world would want to join the Mothers’ Union. The fun, the fellowship, the faith, the growth, the excitement - I could talk for the world about the Mothers’ Union!”
West Cumbria born Lynne joined her local branch of the MU (in Whitehaven) when she was 23 and went on to hold a number of posts, before being made worldwide president last year.
“I grew up in West Cumbria; my husband David and I got married and moved down to Devon because of David’s job,” Lynne explains.
“He was a chartered accountant at the time, and I just really felt that once we had children, it would be good to have family around.”
The opportunity to move back to Whitehaven arose, and the couple seized it. They threw themselves into community life, and Lynne was pleased to find that her attempts at getting involved in the local church and MU were welcomed, and not brushed off.
She reveals that her relationship with the church had blossomed from a young age.
“I knew about the Mothers’ Union because as a child, I was taken to church. I just loved church life. In the early days I went to St Peter’s Kells,” she says, adding that she has always found church colleagues to be the back bone of a wonderful community”, and “so supportive and caring.”
She continues: “I suppose that nurture during the early years has made me the person that I am today. I’ve never been away from church, church has always been part of me and I’ve always been privileged, I feel, to be part of it. In the good times church life is wonderful, and in the bad times in my personal life - it has been my church friends to whom I’ve turned.”
And she adds that she tries to lead a life that she feels is representative of that of a Bible-believing Christian.
“I would hope people would feel I’m a Christian, yes. I try to live my life in a way that I hope would make Jesus say, ‘yes, that is what I would want from a disciple.’”
Initially, when Lynne and David moved to Whitehaven, Lynne “didn’t really know an awful lot about” the Mothers’ Union.
“I knew there were ladies who did an awful lot in church,” she says.
“I went to our church in Whitehaven and asked the curate if there was a young wives’ group, and he directed me in a wonderful way. He opened the door for me, because as a young curate, he could have just said, ‘yes, I’ll get somebody to come and talk to you’, and never got back to me. But he didn’t. Then the assistant branch leader came to speak with me.
“The more I found out (about the Mothers’ Union), the more I wanted to be involved, and it is just such a powerful organisation.”
Lynne says that at first, “the fun and the fellowship” appealed to her, and eventually, the realisation that these women “were on a Christian journey.”
She adds: “I wanted to be on that journey too, I wanted to reach out as they were reaching out.”
Since it was formed by Mary Sumner back in 1876, the Mothers’ Union has been proactive around the globe in terms of Christian work and campaigns. We try to support marriage and family life, in practical ways, whatever that family consists of or its make-up is,” says Lynne.
“We support those with faith, equally we support those with no faith at all, because we are instruments of God. We do campaigning - for example we have standing with the United Nations, we have our own accreditation, and to put it in a nutshell we try to speak out against injustice.
“We try to make governments see that life is difficult in some areas of the world, and I feel blessed and terribly humbled to have seen some of the poorest areas of the world.”
Lynne says that “one of the wonderful initiatives” taken up by the Mothers’ Union is the Millennium Development programme, which was launched because members wanted to celebrate the Millennium in special ways. As part of this, on a worldwide scale, the Literacy and Development Programme was established, which helps communities to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills. This empowers people living in impoverished countries, particularly women, for example, who Lynne says were often tricked out of their money in the markets when they tried to buy goods simply because they couldn’t count.
“It really blew me away, how we are changing lives and have changed lives, and we will continue to do so, please God, for many years to come.”
Today the programme is at work in Sudan, Ethiopia. Malawi and Burundi. Closer to home, Lynne recounts a story of how the warmth and kindness of Mothers’ Union branches are impacting on families’ lives which almost moves me to tears.
She was on the train home from an event when she fell into a conversation with an inquisitive male fellow passenger, who revealed that his own mother had been a member for many years, and asked her what they “were up to now.”
Lynne filled him in about one project in which members made and brought in little gowns and shawls to hospitals for premature and stillborn babies.
The man’s reaction both surprised and momentarily unnerved Lynne.
“He got really upset, and said, ‘you know, I never, ever thought that I would be able to say thank you in person to the Mothers’ Union. We lost a baby, we wanted to love that baby, but God had other plans for that baby. The MU wrapped our baby in love. Tell your members to keep on doing what they’re doing.”
And she adds: “I thought to myself, that’s what we are about. We simply reach out with Christian love.”
In her time as worldwide president, Lynne has travelled to places like Kenya, Barbados and Madagascar. Internationally, the organisation boasts four million members - although membership is declining - and has branches in 83 countries. The only criteria for joining, says Lynne, is “that you are baptised in the name of the Trinity” and that you promise to support the organisation’s objectives.
She adds: “I could not envisage what life would be like if I wasn’t a member of MU. In the good times, they’ve been amazing. In the bad times, without them, I would not be around. Our founder member Mary Sumner had this personal prayer:
All this day, O Lord
Let me touch as many lives as possible for thee;
And every life I touch,
Do thou by thy Spirit quicken,
Whether through the word I speak,
The prayer I breathe,
Or the life I live.
“And that is what I try to do every minute, every second, of my life - I try to live out that prayer. Being a member of the Mothers’ Union is every part of my being.”
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