God in the Life Of a Mothers’ Union President


THE Mothers’ Union is an organisation with a strong prayer and campaigning base that works around the world empowering families and communities. Gillian Johnson tells Jo Duckles her journey from joining as a young mum to becoming president of the MU Oxford Diocese. 

Gillian, a lifelong member of the Guiding movement and a grandmother-of-four, invited me to her home in Tilehurst, Reading, where she lives with her husband, Jim, to tell me how she held numerous roles for the Mothers’ Union over more than 40 years. We meet as the MU in the Oxford Diocese prepares for its role in the Wave of Prayer – a global prayer chain that sees thousands of people praying for the needs of communities all over the world.
Gillian Johnson with her husband, Jim.

Gillian Johnson with her husband, Jim.

Born in Hillingdon, Gillian’s family moved to Southampton when she was tiny and she grew up there, worshipping at Highfield Church. It was there that Guiding became an important part of her life. “I was involved in the Christian side of Guiding as well as being very much part of the church,” says Gillian, who recently went back to Highfield Church with Jim. Life moves on and while they didn’t know anyone, they enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
Gillian met Jim when they were teenagers and they married when she was 21, after he graduated from university. Jim’s work saw them move to Glasgow and then to Tottenham, before eventually settling in Tilehurst.   “We went to the local Anglican church in Tottenham but it was very ‘high’ and a real contrast to what we’d experienced before, so we joined the United Reformed Church,” says Gillian, who recently met a bunch of Afro Carribbean Mothers’ Union members from Tottenham at a service in St Paul‘s Cathedral.  “I told them I used to live there and they were delighted to meet me,” she said.
Gillian was a civil servant doing clerical work in the Department of Health and Social Security and later an administration officer for the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service. “That involved a lot of travelling around Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. At the time my children were at school. I felt I couldn’t keep that up so worked for Relate for four years before spending 15 years in a GP surgery. The surgery was in our parish. I built up strong relationships with patients who needed help.”
The Johnson family settled in Tilehurst in the 1970s. “We had a tiny baby by then and felt it would be good to get her baptised in the place where we were going to put down roots,” says Gillian. So Helen, their elder daughter, was baptised at St George’s, Tilehurst. “I joined the MU branch there. There were a few young mums like me and we were encouraged by these ‘aunties’, older members who were like aunties to our children.”
Gillian found herself on the branch committee until her two girls were at secondary school , when she became secretary, treasurer and eventually branch leader. “Having been a Guide and later a Guider, I thought if I could run a Guide company I could run an MU branch,” said Gillian, a Trefoil Guild member who was a District Commissioner for the Guides until a few years ago.
“The leadership skills you learn in Guiding definitely fashion you through life. I went through my own MU branch holding levels of responsibility and later became the Reading Deanery leader.” Reading is the largest deanery in the country in terms of the MU.  Gillian was also area leader for East Berkshire, organising special activities including Lady Day and summer meetings.  She has also been involved in MU Enterprises, selling products including books, toys, greeting cards, household items and fashion items.
 And what does Gillian enjoy most about her Mothers’ Union involvement?  “I think if I am honest it is about meeting the people in their situations and seeing the work that they are doing as members. All of these people are working so hard in the name of the Mothers’ Union. The smaller branches with more elderly members are the prayer base. That is very humbling.
“The smaller branches with more elderly members are the prayer base. The power base of prayer in England is excellent as well as the financial backing we give, although that is reducing as communities in poorer countries become empowered to work out their own solutions to poverty.”
As well as the international work, the MU does a whole host of work in the UK, including in the Oxford Diocese. Parenting courses, campaigns against domestic violence and the sexualisation of children and projects to give help, support and even days out to poorer families, are among the projects undertaken across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. One of the most recent is a plan to provide treat days for some of those affected by the recent flooding, to give them some respite as their homes and businesses are repaired.
Gillian and Jim have two daughters, aged 42 and 40 and four grandchildren aged fourteen, seven, four and three, who all attended the ceremony where she was officially made President, at Oxford’s Cathedral at Christ Church. For more see http://www.muoxford.org.uk
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