Mission unlimited with the Mothers’ Union

EVERYONE is welcome to join an organisation with more than four million members in 83 countries.

That organisation is the Mothers’ Union, which makes a difference in communities across the world, including across the Thames Valley region, as well as on a national and international level. The charity even has a special consultative status at the UN to help transform lives all over the world.

Children and adults enjoy a toddle event in the CHURN Benefice. Photo: MU Oxford

In the Oxford Diocese the MU supports families of sick children at several hospitals; runs drop-in sessions for parents with young children; sends cards to prisoners and provides holidays for disadvantaged families.

The latest initiative is Stories on the Street, a community development process that empowers churches to address community issues. After successful projects in Africa the scheme is now being trialled in Berkshire.


Ending gender violence

THE Mothers’ Union is urging churchgoers to join the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Fictional stories of gender based violence in The Archers and Poldark have made headline news. However, in real life, according to an MU statement, the 25 per cent of women in the UK who experience domestic abuse in their lifetime (33 per cent globally) and the two women who die each week, are rarely mentioned. The Mothers’ Union has worked with partners Restored and We Will Speak Out to launch the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence on 25 November.

Where to find out more:

Go to and search for ’16 Days’. More resources can be found at Go to and search for ‘Toilet Poster’ to find a poster that can be displayed in church.

Mothers’ Union celebrates its 140th anniversary

ACROSS the world the Mothers’ Union has been celebrating its 140th anniversary. One special celebratory service was held at St Mary the Virgin Church in Beech Hill, Reading.

Photo by Marlene Voke

Photo by Marlene Voke

Loddon Reach Mothers’ Union was formed from the branches of Beech Hill, Swallowfield, Spencers Wood and Shinfield which are all now within the Loddon Reach benefice.

Loddon Reach Mothers’ Union was formed from the branches of Beech Hill, Swallowfield, Spencers Wood and Shinfield which are all now within the Loddon Reach benefice.
The Diocesan MU President, Alison Bennett, was at the party, which also celebrated the first birthday of the Loddon Reach branch. The Revd Lady Denise Brown officiated and not only admitted two new members, but dedicated a new banner for Loddon Reach. After the service a celebration tea was held in the village hall in Beech Hill. A special cake, depicting the new banner, was cut by Alison.

The Diocesan MU President, Alison Bennett, was at the party, which also celebrated the first birthday of the Loddon Reach branch. The Revd Lady Denise Brown officiated and not only admitted two new members, but dedicated a new banner for Loddon Reach. After the service a celebration tea was held in the village hall in Beech Hill. A special cake, depicting the new banner, was cut by Alison.

God in the life of… Alison Bennett

FROM a childhood that led to a teaching career and caring for children of her own, Alison Bennett tells Jo Duckles her journey to becoming the President of the Mothers’ Union, Oxford. 

Alison Bennett is pictured at a family wedding.

Alison Bennett is pictured at a family wedding.

When her mum was hospitalised with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after her birth, only child Alison was placed into a children’s home as her father had to continue working as an administration officer at Wormwood Scrubs, and later, Wandsworth prisons. “He would visit both me and my mum every day. In those days children weren’t allowed to visit their parents in hospital,” she says. “But there was a kind staff nurse and once a fortnight she allowed my father to take me to the hospital. I was taken to the linen cupboard and my mother was wheeled to the cupboard to see me.”

Alison has no recollection of this, but believes it was important for her mum to have contact with her new daughter. “I wasn’t baptised until she came out of hospital when I was 13 to 14 months old.” As a child, attending church or Sunday school was always part of Alison’s life. “I remember my mother’s confirmation at the new Guildford Cathedral. I was confirmed there 10 years later.” Alison was seven or eight when her mum joined the MU.

“She joined the young wives, but realised the women involved were all grandmothers. She did a lot of things with them and continued when we moved house. When she was old enough to drive, Alison was given a car so that she could provide transport for her disabled mum, and she would take her to and from MU meetings. “Of course once my father left (when I was 20) I had to do more for her, “ says Alison. Although she was around the MU when she was young, Alison didn’t become a member until after the birth of her second son. It was then that she learned more about the global scope of the organisation’s work.

Originally wanting to become a doctor, Alison didn’t get the grades to do medicine, but read psychology at university, aiming to become an educational psychologist. After graduation she became a teacher, and when she met her husband, Richard, she continued teaching for the rest of her career.

“Richard was also a teacher and at first we lived in the school where he taught and worshipped in the school chapel.” When they bought their own home, the couple had to both work hard to pay the mortgage.
“After our first son was born I went back to work very early,” she says. She joined the MU after attending a monthly soup and rolls event organised by a member in her village when she was at home after her second son was born. “I took part in the Knit and Rip meetings – knitting squares for quilts and ripping old sheets for bandages for Mother Theresa’s ministry in Calcutta.  Once she no longer had to work 12 hour days, Alison became involved in social policy with Mothers’ Union, something she continued to do when she moved to Oxfordshire.

“I later became a member of the Action and Outreach central committee based at Mary Sumner House in London,” says Alison. “That meant working out how to have the greatest impact with our resources all over the world”. The first meeting she went to was spent looking at how little money we had (because of the global financial crisis) and making tough decisions on funding cuts and freezes.
“It was really difficult but amazing things came out of that. It was the first time they had someone from overseas on the committee – a lady from Tanzania called Joyce Kibaja, who often visits family in Reading,” says Alison.

Since then, more dioceses overseas are beginning to make a contribution towards Mothers’ Union work, which includes teaching people literacy and financial education.
Currently the MU Oxford Diocese is looking at how to engage churches more in its work. “We are looking at how the Church is structured and how we can help it engage with us and with our campaigns,” says Alison.

Recently Katy Kerr from MU Oxford spoke in a parliamentary meeting on the importance of marriage preparation in flourishing relationships. The full story can be read here.  The Door has also reported on the MU’s Bye Buy Childhood campaign, which aims to empower families to challenge the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. “We encourage members to get involved in our campaigns, but we also help them to know how to speak out independently about things they think are wrong,” says Alison.

For more see The Church and Community Mobilisation Process pilot project which Oxford Mothers’ Union are helping to fund in the Reading Archdeaconry gets underway later in the year.

Alison and Richard live in Caulcott (near Kirtlington) in Oxfordshire. They have two sons, Matt, who lives in New Zealand with his wife and two children, and Tim, who lives near Hampton Court with his wife.

Giving hope at Christmas time

Vital supplies and a listening ear

FOR many people, the idea of a family Christmas roast with a succulent turkey and all the festive trimmings is nothing but a pipe dream. Jo Duckles visits the West Berks Food Bank, where volunteers work hard to make sure vulnerable people get the supplies they need and, where possible, a few Christmas treats. cupboard

I met Sarah Bennet, the administration manager, at the Thatcham Baptist Church, just one of the venues for the food bank, which gives out food from churches in Newbury, Hungerford and the Lambourn Valley. My visit was at the beginning of Advent, when the volunteers were sorting donations, including Advent Calendars for families.

The groceries were mainly donated by churches and shoppers (to collection points at nine supermarkets in West Berkshire). Already donations of Christmas puddings and mince pies were starting to roll in as I sat down with Sarah, and some of her fellow volunteers, Catherine Hamblin, and Sue Stevenson from St Mary’s, Thatcham, Colin Edwards from the Christadelphian Church and Vivienne Stewart from the Kennet Christian Centre in Newbury.

Sue said: “At Christmas we will try and give them double rations and include mince pies and Christmas puddings, chicken in white wine sauce and chocolate treats for the children, that sort of thing, but it really depends on what is donated.” Sarah said: “At this time of year local businesses do Christmas campaigns for us. We give them a specific list and they are very generous in how they support us.” listening

It’s not just about the food, but offering a listening ear to the clients who arrive at the church with a voucher from an official agency such as social services. “I think that’s as important as giving them food,” says Vivienne. The volunteers were aware that the friendly café style area is a far cry from the harsh, official job centres and other agencies where many of the clients have to go to claim benefits.

The volunteers say their motivation is the opportunity to help people. Sue said: “It’s like the story of the Good Samaritan. How can you pass by on the other side of the road when you can see a need and can do something about it? Sometimes you are the first person that’s really listened. You are not judging them, but are there to listen and hopefully send them away feeling more confident, even if you can’t change their situation.”

Colin, a retired deputy head teacher, said: “This is a non-judgemental response to people’s needs. Sometimes there is a big barrier to people just coming through the door and asking for something.” As well as cupboards full of tinned soups and vegetables and pasta and rice, there were boxes filled with various toiletries. Colin said: “One client had a 14-year-old daughter and I asked if he needed anything else. She had written down shampoo and when I checked we had just one bottle. I gave it to him and could see in his face he was really pleased. Something like that can make all the difference to a teenager.”

When clients arrive, the volunteers need to know what facilities they have at home. “Some don’t have a cooker, only a microwave, and some are living rough,” said Catherine. They told the story of one homeless man who came in dirty and they asked him if he would like a wash. “He went into the disabled toilet. He was in there for ages but when he came out he looked and felt so much better,” said Vivienne.

The scale of the problem

THE problem of hunger can be demonstrated by a rise in demand for supplies from Trussell Trust foodbanks. The trust is just one co-ordinator for food banks in the UK.
Between April and September 2015 Trussell Trust food banks gave 506,000 bags containing supplies to last for three days to people in crisis, compared to 493,000 in 2014. And while West Berkshire saw a slight drop in the number of people needing food banks over the same period (1,366 from April to September 2015 and 1,715 from April to September 2014), there are still many people who are in need.

Listen to the West Berkshire Foodbank talk about  their experiences:

A warm bed in Milton Keynes

by Linda Ward


Beds set up in one of the churches offering a warm shelter for the homeless in Milton Keynes. Photo: Ed Lee.

THIS winter, just like the four winters before, a charity made up from a group of dedicated volunteers and a handful of employees will bring support and hope to the homeless of Milton Linda Ward
Winter Night Shelter Milton Keynes (WNSMK) opened its doors in late November to 15 homeless and vulnerable people who would otherwise be sleeping rough. Funded by donations and local grants, the shelter operates every night from late November/early December through to mid-March.

A man looks forward to a hot meal at the WNSMK. Photo: Ed Lee.

A man looks forward to a hot meal at the WNSMK. Photo: Ed Lee.


Photo: Ed Lee

Guests at the shelter can be old or young, men and women. Some are long term homeless, but many are the victims of circumstance. They may have domestic issues, some will have lost jobs and no longer be able to pay for accommodation. Illness and disability are also factors that make people homeless. Some may have lost or had stolen their identity documents and without an address or documents they are unable to get work.

Supported by seven churches and their congregations, over 400 volunteers provide a hot meal, friendship and compassion to individuals admitted to the shelter. Each evening volunteers play games, watch films and undertake quizzes with the guests. During the day, they are back on the street, but secure in the knowledge they can get back into the shelter when it opens at 5.15pm. Important to the work is a welfare team that helps the guests move into more permanent accommodation. This means spaces become free for more homeless individuals throughout the season. The team also helps to replace lost documents and negotiate benefits for those not able to do so by themselves, so that they have a chance to rebuild their lives.

One shelter guest, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Without the shelter, I don’t know what I would have done. I have spent several nights on a friend’s sofa, but we had an argument and I couldn’t stay there anymore. Since I’ve been in the shelter, I’ve been helped to get my ID sorted so that I can claim benefits, I’ve had access to a GP and feel much more hopeful about the future. The volunteers are amazing, they give up their time to spend with us and the food is delicious.”
The Christmas period is a time of family and festivities for most, so for people without a home and little contact with their families, the shelter provides Christmas Cheer staying open all day to provide accommodation, Christmas Dinner and entertainment.

Last year, the lowest temperature recorded in Milton Keynes was minus six. During the four years they have operated, the shelter has accommodated 320 people, provided 7,174 meals and 3,587 warm beds for the night. It has helped 165 people into more permanent accommodation.

Many organisations provide support through donations of things the shelter can use or through monetary donations to keep the shelter running. The churches involved are St George’s – Wolverton, St Andrew’s Baptist – Far Bletchley, Newport Pagnell Baptist Church, New Life Church MK, Stony Stratford Community Church, Christ the Vine – Coffee Hall, St Mary’s RC – Woburn Sands.
Linda Ward is the Specialist Volunteer – Marketing, for the WNSMK.

Mothers Union Christmas cards for prisoners

EVERY year 1,400 Christmas cards are carefully written by Mothers’ Union members and posted to Oxfordshire’s Bullingdon Prison to cheer up inmates during the festive season.Envelopes

The mammoth effort is co-ordinated by Captain John Richards, a retired Church Army Captain living in Berinsfield. “Three years ago the prison chaplain said he’d like every prisoner to receive a
Christmas card. I stood up at the Mothers’ Union Oxford Diocese annual general meeting and told them about it,” says John. “They were enthusiastic and they came up trumps. Some branches have made cards, others have bought them and have sat and written them. Mary Sumner House (the national Mothers’ Union HQ) has helped and sent us some. It’s been a huge effort by people over the three counties for three years and it’s just magnificent.

“Everything has to be opened easily for the prison officers to check,” said Captain John. The cards have to remain anonymous as they are sent and distributed around the Category A prison.
Captain John said this is just one of many project that overturns any outdated perceptions about the Mothers’ Union. “A lot of members give sacrificially to projects in the developing world. They are doing what they can to help others and the same vision applies here. These women have got the vision and find little slots where help is needed and fill them.There are a lot of members who in their own quiet way are making positive changes in people’s lives.”


One in three to zero #makeit0

AS part of its participation in the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign, Mothers’ Union is calling for “One in three to zero” – for the number of women globally experiencing gender-based violence to drop from one in three to zero.

The Christian charity is calling on governments to create a culture where violence against women and girls (VAWG) is unacceptable, through the education of young people and adults about loving, respectful relationships. Governments also need to outlaw all forms of gender-based violence, ensure that survivors have access to justice and support services and provide for the rehabilitation of perpetrators.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Social Policy Manager, Rachel Aston said: “Much has been achieved in the past few years in raising awareness of gender-based violence across the world, yet with one in three women known to experience some form of abuse, there is still much to do. Our conference is bringing together a range of expert panelists highlighting the different experiences of women and girls; and with our conference participants we will be examining what needs to be done, through policy and practice, to bring this number to zero.”

To launch the 16 Days event, which begins today and ends on Thursday 10 December, the international Day of Human Rights, Mothers’ Union is holding a conference in the UK to bring together policy makers, key agencies who work to end gender-based violence and international speakers to help profile the global complexities which need support from the UK. Also, today members of the new Synod of the Church of England will be invited to contribute prayers for the campaign which will be prayed throughout the 16 Days by members and staff across Mothers’ Union worldwide. Globally Mothers’ Union is a member of ‘Restored’ and ‘We Will Speak Out’, coalitions working together globally to end violence against women and girls. Mothers’ Union also holds  consultative status at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and over the years has influenced government agreements on violence against women, especially on access to justice and the rehabilitation of perpetrators.

To get involved in the campaign, or to lend your support follow #16Days and #Makeit0 on social media, and download the resource pack from Mothers’ Union’s website.

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