Tale of faith of MU founder performed in Norwich
Saltmine Theatre Company performed the play 'Chosen', based on the life of Mary Sumner, who founded the Mothers' Union 140 years ago. The play was well received at the Norwich Diocese AGM on July 3.
Review by Allie Mclean
There was an air of excitement as Mothers’ Union members, invited guests and some of the cast’s family members gathered at St Luke’s church, Aylsham Road on 3rd July 2017 for the Saltmine Theatre company's production of “Chosen” about the life of Mary Sumner, the founder of Mothers’ Union.
The play began by setting the scene of a young mother who felt the overwhelming responsibility of motherhood on the arrival of her first daughter. She described it as “one of the greatest and most important professions in the world and yet none had so poor a training for its supreme duties”. The love and respect that Mary and her husband George shared, radiated from the stage by the skilful actors, and the words describing how Mary's own happy married life led her to realise that “the foundation of a home is a holy marriage in which husband and wife are both one in mutual love and faith, and in agreement on home rule and the training of children” which led to the first Mothers’ Union objective being created.
But it wasn't until 1876, after the birth of her first grandchild, that Mary remembered how overwhelming she had found motherhood, and wanted to bring together mothers within the parish, irrespective of their social background, to offer support to one another. At this first meeting, Mary was so overwhelmed by the enormity of what she wanted to say, that George had to step in for her. Cards were issued and given to each woman who attended to give them guidance and encouragement. The message simply being that as parents we should “be the people we want our children to be” as they learn by example.
For about nine years it was very much a parochial organisation, but with the encouragement of good friend, Bishop Ernest Wilberforce, an opportunity arose in 1885 for Mary to speak at the Church of England Winchester Diocese congress meeting for women and this led to a number of women going back to their parishes and start meetings for mothers based on Mary’s model. The Bishop of Winchester subsequently made it a Diocesan organisation. The concept then spread rapidly throughout the UK, and beyond. It was incredibly moving listening to extracts of letters that Mary received from around the world as the organisation became known further a field. Mary still had to deal with her critics, especially once MU became involved in campaigning and lobbying parliament. But she did it with strong sense of faith and immense dignity. One of my most favourite quotes from the play was when one of Mary’s friends said “There’s nothing quiet about us” to which Mary responded “Good!” And I think that is still true of Mothers’ Union campaigns and activities today.
I was inspired by Mary’s prayerful determination, her depth of faith, her complete trust in God - especially when called out of her comfort zone. It was comforting and affirming that many of the fundamental principles remain today, including the prayerful aspect of the organisation. It was a beautifully scripted piece of work, using archived material from Mary Sumner House, Mothers’ Union headquarters, that was performed with such sincerity, leaving most of us feeling a little emotional by the end of the performance. So a huge thank you to Saltmine Theatre company for bringing our founder to life, 140 years later, and inspiring members to continue her legacy with the passion she had for supporting families and family life, particularly in times of adversity.