by Jordan Miller-Stubbendick
A FEW MONTHS AFTER OUR WEDDING, Adam and I packed a U-Haul and drove to our first call—a joint one, serving three congregations in eastern Nebraska. I attended my first quilting group in the basement of one of those congregations. The women of this group (and it was all women) welcomed their new, young pastor to the ministry they had sustained for decades. Every year, this group produced quilt after quilt to donate to Lutheran World Relief (LWR). Those quilts warmed people worldwide with love these women sewed into their fabric. They even stitched a red heart to each quilt so they could identify one of their creations if they ever saw it on LWR’s website or publicity materials.
COFFEE AND BIBLE STUDY
Each week, the group would gather for coffee, quilting and Bible study (always from Gather magazine). I didn’t attend every time, but learned that it was always a gift to me when I did. Their handiwork was beautiful. They were kind as I, eager but clumsy, attempted to help them in this ministry they’d carried out for so many years. They taught me how to measure and tie quilts, how to practice patience and listen. They showed compassion as they guided me through inevitable mistakes.
It took me a while to realize that making the quilts was important and that the community they pieced together, one cup of coffee, one conversation at a time, was just as valuable.
At first, I didn’t understand the slow working pace the women sometimes adopted. I came to the group on the heels of high school, college and seminary, where I would check items off my list and move on to the next thing. I valued accomplishing tasks quickly.
And, well, I had a hard time not feeling like I was in control. I had a lot to learn. A kind quilting
group was a good place to begin.
VALUE OF CHECKING IN
I really didn’t understand the value of starting with coffee and checking in with each other before working. The quilting, I thought, was the reason we were there, so why didn’t we jump right in, get it done and go on our way? But this was how these women tended to their ongoing friendships and community.
Here they shared important happenings in their lives—or the everyday, mundane stuff. These longtime relationships infused their quilting and their lives with warmth.
In nurturing their friendships week after week, month after month, year after year, this small group of women lived out God’s call of encouragement with love. I learned that how you begin something matters. Making sure to tend to each other’s hearts at the beginning of ministry together can establish a deep bond between people. That matters just as much as creating the quilts.
While I was itching to begin what I considered the real work of the morning, the women asked questions of each other: “How is your granddaughter?” “Did your brother have his surgery?” “How much rain did you get at your place last night?” The conversation continued as they picked up fabric and needles. But they began by looking in each other’s eyes. Later, their hearts listened while their hands were busy.
Through their time and attention to each other they were saying, “I see you. I love you. I remember what you told me last week, and the week before that, and it matters.”
SYMBOL OF LOVE
The red hearts sewn on their quilts were about more than identifying their work. Those hearts
symbolized the love these women had for each other and for people around the world they would never meet. They also showed their love for God, who called them together to share the gifts of their hands and their hearts, in fabric and in faithfulness.
The quilts they have produced over the years matter to those who receive them. The friendships they have nurtured matter too. I’ve had the privilege of sitting with several quilting groups over the years. Through them, I’ve seen the value of gathering week after week in church basements and gyms. I’ve observed them sharing responsibilities for bringing refreshments and leading Bible study. I’ve watched them care for friends in the same room and across the globe.
Meeting together wasn’t always easy for the quilting group in my first-call congregation. Stressful situations in their families and the world, extreme weather and other commitments accounted for reasons they could have disbanded altogether.
Members rotated in and out of the group, but most were steadfast. They taught me what faithful community, loving service and bearing with one another in love look like.
I am grateful to the quilters I have known for teaching me there is space in both quilting and community for learning and growth. I have learned that day-in, day-out faithfulness to a task, person or community is hard, good work.
Quilting groups are among the many ways we live out God’s call to love and care for the world.
Excerpted from, “What I’ve learned from quilters” by Jordan Miller-Stubbendick from the May/June 2022 issue of Gather.