The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Mothers' Union world leader speaks in Norfolk

Worldwide President of Mothers’ Union, Rosemary Kempsell, set the scene for the changing face of an organisation that began more than 130 years ago, when she was guest speaker at five Norfolk venues last week following an invitation from the Norwich Diocese.  Sandie Shirley reports.

RosemaryKempsell450The movement, with 4 million members, embraces 87 countries and works collectively and imaginatively to alleviate poverty, abuse, prejudice and injustice among women.

But whether enabling African women to become entrepreneurs or acting as a formidable voice for women at the United Nations’ Commission it is a far cry from its early beginnings when an impassioned grandmother in Victorian England addressed a group of struggling young mums about family Christian values. 

Since then its widening ventures include literacy and health programmes and parenting initiatives. It has also lobbied local and national governments on family life issues to challenge legislations that neglect the vulnerable and marginalised and next February, at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, it will lobby governments on all forms of violence against women and girls. 

Rosemary, who has just returned from Burundi, in Africa, shared her experiences at Fakenham, Swaffham, Diss and Norwich Cathedral and the Norwich Christian Resource Centre.

“Women are earning a living by growing and harvesting a field of palm trees to make cooking oil to sell locally and export to Kenya,” she said. “The nuts are ground by hand but now they are looking to buy a motorised machine to speed up the process. And thanks to an adult literacy programme one woman has been made chief of her village.”

Schemes are tailored to the challenges of the developing world – HIV/AIDS, drought and excess harvests, parenting and home economics. But the stories also continue in the UK and include the support of Mothers’ Union in the Norwich Diocese where holidays are funded for carers and those behind bars and their families are befriended in over 80 prisons nationwide, sometimes through the Angel Project. 

RosemaryKempsellFlags450“The confidential work has enabled us to help prisoners integrate into society when they are released and one lady was ordained last year as a parish priest,” says Rosemary.

As her six-year role comes to an end, she reflects on the last 36 years with Mothers’ Union where prayer, funding and grass roots networking are paramount.

“When I moved to a new church a lady visited me at home, asking if I wanted to join Mothers’ Union. One of my children was two years old at the time and was having a temper tantrum on the doorstep but joining has been one of the best things I have ever done,” she said.  “The lady who invited me became my mentor until she died recently in her nineties.”

At first, Rosemary was reluctant to take on a leadership role but after persuasion she stepped into an empty position, leading a combined group of young wives and Mothers’ Union members. 

She grew in knowledge and moved from one upward position to the next, witnessing, first-hand, regional, national and international endeavours that bring fresh hope and confidence to women across the nations who are, at times, forgotten candidates of society. 

“The work is close to my heart and faith. Living in Nairobi when my husband was posted there for his work for ten years when my children were young opened my eyes to the needs that could be addressed by working together,” says Rosemary.     

The organisation has moved with the times. In the 1970s divorcees were able to join the organisation in line with the Anglican Church’s new view on divorce. The former voluntary organisation now also employs 40 staff and members no longer have to be mothers.

RosemaryKempsellAfricaSkilled development co-ordinators use their cultural heritage and language abilities to help underpin the organisation’s objectives across various continents. Forty-nine per cent of the membership is from India, 48 per cent from Africa, two per cent from the UK and 1 per cent from the rest of the world but plans are in place for continued growth.

The ‘Help us Grow’ campaign encourages each member to use DVDs and other resources to help recruit another member while copies of the ‘Family First’ magazine will soon be available in various branches of WH Smith and Sainsbury. 

“It was a great privilege to have our Worldwide President in the diocese,” said Win Sutton, Norwich Diocesan President.

“Hundreds attended the Cathedral for a special service and at the five venues where she spoke all were fascinated by her story and the work that Mothers’ Union is doing both in this country and overseas. It is always a delight for members to meet their Worldwide President in person as over the last six years she has been in office they have read so much about her travels and the people she has met.”

For more information or membership enquiries contact: Win Sutton: 01603 897259 or munorwich@googlemail.com

Pictured above is Rosemary Kempsell in Norwich, Mothers Union banners outside Norwich Cathedral and Rosemary in Burundi.

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