Billowing white and royal blue garments in African style filled St. Mark’s Church, Van Nuys, on March 24 as a group of women from Kampala, Uganda, helped launch a new chapter of the Mothers’ Union at the San Fernando Valley parish.
Bishop Catharine Roskam, former bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts and now resident in the Diocese of Los Angeles, presided at the service, which saw about 40 members of St. Mark’s become members of the new chapter, the first to be established in the state of California.
The Mothers’ Union is widespread throughout the Anglican Communion, but has relatively few branches in the United States. According to its website, some 10 chapters are active, located in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.
Outside of those few chapters, most Episcopalians in the United States have never heard of the Mothers’ Union, but it’s a four-million member powerhouse in many parts of the world, especially those evangelized by the Church of England in the 19th century. Its influence extends to the halls of power; the union has a representative at the United Nations.
According to the Rev. Joy Magala, a Uganda native who assists at St. Mark’s, the idea of a Mothers’ Union chapter at St. Mark’s got immediate interest from the large Ugandan expatriate community that worships at the parish because the women remember that the union played a large part in their mothers’ lives “back home.”
“These girls, they have grown up here, we have watched them grow up,” said Magala. “And now they are getting married and having families. It was time.”
It took about a year to lay the groundwork to start the chapter and to complete arrangements for the Ugandan delegation’s visit.
Most of the 32-member Ugandan group are members of All Saints’ Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda, a 5,000-member congregation that uses tents outside its rather small nave to hold the thousands of worshipers who attend every Sunday.
According to Jolly Babirukamu, a prominent laywoman at the cathedral who accompanied the group, the Mothers’ Union was founded in Uganda in 1908 and has been a vibrant part of that nation’s Christian community ever since.
“We are in every parish in Uganda,” said Babirukamu, who previously served as Uganda’s representative on the Anglican Consultative Council, the governing body of the Anglican Communion, and also was a member of its standing committee. She worked with Roskam, who was a delegate from the Episcopal Church, during that time.
Babirukamu explained that the Mothers’ Union’s main purpose is to promote Christian marriage, “raise Godly children” and strengthen family bonds. Its work begins in the home and the congregation, she said, but extends to ministry in schools, hospitals and prisons.
“We take care of orphans,” she said, adding that she has personally reared more than 15 orphan
Members in Uganda, she explained, must have been married in the church (a requirement not enforced in all nations), but do not have to be biological or adoptive mothers in order to join.
“In the African countries, you can become a mother even when you are still at home,” she said. “If you are a first-born — I think I became a mother at about 10 years. I took care of my siblings. And we do take care of all of the children. Even if you are not a biological mother, you become a mother.
Women joining in service and fellowship
At the Feb. 24 service, the women’s dresses reflected the signature colors of the Mothers’ Union worldwide. The costumes are not a uniform; each one is different and reflects the member’s heritage, but all are brilliant white with royal blue accents.
At the service, Roskam sported blue and white vestments in solidarity with the union’s members.
The Ugandan delegation delighted in the event, many of them recording it with their cell phone and iPad cameras. They performed songs for the congregation and enthusiastically welcomed the new Mother’s Union members.
Enid Turitwenka of the Ugandan group told the congregation in her sermon that marriage is a matter of intimacy and fruitfulness. Even those who have no children can be fruitful in what they bring to the community, she said, adding, “Be encouraged — if God has blessed you with children, praise God.”
A marriage is a profound mystery, not a contract, she continued. “It is a covenant relationship.” The Mothers’ Union is one tool that has equipped women with skills to help moving and growing, she said.
The California residents — most of them from Uganda, a few from other African nations — stepped forward one by one to receive a certificate of membership from one of several priests present, including Magala’s husband Sam, also an assistant priest at St. Mark’s.
The priests greeted each candidate by name and told her, “I admit you as a member of the Mothers’ Union in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Receive this card to remind you of your promises. May the Lord be with you.”
On the Thursday prior to their visit to St. Mark’s, the Ugandan delegation — this time clothed in bright-colored traditional garments — paid a visit to the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, where Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno, Bishops Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Glasspool and Bishop Roskam welcomed them to the weekly staff Eucharist and joined them for lunch.
The Mothers’ Union
According to its website (www.themothersunion.org/), the Mothers’ Union’s vision is of a
world where God’s love is shown through loving, respectful, and flourishing relationships.
Its aim and purpose is to to demonstrate the Christian faith in action by the transformation
of communities worldwide through the nurture of the family in its many forms.
Mothers’ Union Objectives:
• To uphold Christ’s teaching on the nature of marriage and promote its wider understanding.
• To encourage parents to bring up their children in the faith and life of the Church.
• To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service
• To promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children.
• To help those whose family life has met with adversity.
We believe in the value of each individual and their unique qualities.
We believe in the value of relationships. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind … Love your neighbour as yourself.”
We believe in the value of the family in its many forms as a source of love and support for individuals and the basis for a caring community.