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Quilting up God’s lessons, even amid a pandemic

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communication, Dakotas UMC

Surprise The World Banner

Surprise the World, banner crreated by Mary Ann Thorton and team. Photos by Rev. Sharla McCaskell.

Each week a group of five-six ladies have been gathering on the lawn, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, at Knollwood Heights United Methodist Church in Rapid City, South Dakota. They chatter about faith, ministry, and quilting.

“Since last spring, we have been gathering in our lawn chairs, on the church lawn,” says Mary Ann Thornburg, a member of the Black Hills Quilters Guild and Knollwood Heights United Methodist Church. “We visit about our projects, encourage each other and give each other ideas.”

The mild winter weather allowed the quilters to continue to gather on the lawn throughout December. Rev. Sharla McCaskell, who serves Knollwood Heights UMC, approached the quilters about making a banner for the upcoming Lenten season and the 2021 Lenten study, Surprise the World.  

The quilters started brainstorming and planning. When Pastor Sharla checked back with them, she said, “It might be too much work. We really can get by.”

Thornburg told her, “It is too late. We are already started. We love our pastor, and we wanted to do this!”

When the cold weather hit, the group had to divert to phone calls, text messages, and photos. With the help of everyone, Mary Ann spearheaded the stitching. She even had assistance from her daughter. The result is a Surprise the World banner that is a focusing visual for the congregation when they meet in-person for worship and on Zoom for the Lenten study.

Lynette Mart, a member of the quilting group and Grace UMC in Piedmont, South Dakota, delved into the book, Surprise the World: Five Habits of Missional People and learned about the BELLS—Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Send, acronym. She encouraged the group to use that as part of the quilt design.

“Things just progressed from there,” says Mary Ann. “I looked around at the fabric and projects I had at home, and it all fell together.”

Cross Banner

Alice Meyer led efforts to create the cross banner.

The final quilted banner incorporates the design from the team and a quilt that Thornburg completed previously.

The group has made other banners for the church. One of the favorites is the cross banner, a creation that Alice Meyer led.

Thornburg took part in the first lesson of the 2021 Lenten study via Zoom this week. “There were 10 of us. We looked at the first three chapters. I just got my book the day before the Zoom lesson, so I didn’t get a chance to read all three chapters, but I knew all about BELLS.”

The quilters gathered at Knollwood UMC are a subgroup of the larger Black Hills Quilters Guild, with about 40-50 members. Since the pandemic hit, the guild has been meeting in parks. This fall, they moved to an empty store in the mall to continue their art, even amid COVID. The guild gave away 245 quilts this past year.

Quilting is not a lost art in the Dakotas. It is a thriving ministry for many. Quilting ministry is for people of all ages with skill levels that vary from novice to expert. Here are a few other stories about quilting as a ministry:

  • Sowers of Love— Quilters in the Minot area have been stitching up love for the neighbors in the community for decades.“Our name is Sowers of Love –s-o-w-e-r-s.  Because we sew, s-e-w but our purpose is to bring love to the people that need to be loved,” said Linda Wade, one of the quilters.
  • Sonseekers quiltThe Son Seekers' quilt may be the first of its kind created by a group of United Methodist campers. Son Seekers is a camping experience for children, kindergarten throught third grade at Lake Poinsett Center.
  • Campers' quilt warms hearts—Bishop Bruce and Char Ough bought the Son Seekers quilt for Gordon and Ardell Graner, missionaries with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. The quilt was inspiration for three groups of children in the Dominican Republic to stitch their love for Jesus.



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