By Jessica Connor
LUGOFF—Imagine being diagnosed with terminal cancer, your body racked with pain and your mind swimming with fear, anger, depression: Why me? What will my family do? How did this happen?
Imagine lying there, alone in your bed, needing comfort and prayer but struggling to grasp what can so often seem like intangibles.
Now imagine you have a warm, soft quilt wrapped around you, lovingly crafted by faithful members of a church family. As you snuggle deeper, you know you are nuzzling into prayer “ that every stitch, every knot, every swatch of this fabric has been prayed over not only by the quiltmakers but the entire congregation.
You are, quite literally, wrapped in prayer.
And you take comfort. For no matter what happens to you, you are safe.
That is the ministry of the Prayers and Squares group of St. John s United Methodist Church, Lugoff.
Since March, the quiltmakers who comprise the outreach effort have been hard at work creating hand-knotted quilts for people in need.
Each knot is a prayer, said Regina Henson, founding member of the St. John s group, which is a chapter of the international Prayers and Squares interfaith outreach and is an official ministry of St. John s United Methodist Women.
Henson said the ministry follows three commandments : It s not about the quilt but all about the prayers. A person must agree to accept the gift of prayer in the form of a quilt. And no payment can ever be accepted for a prayer quilt.
The quilters gather once or twice a month, usually on a Thursday morning, to start a project together. There, in the warm and well-lit fellowship hall of St. John s, the dozen or so women pray and chat while they encourage each other. Then they bring their projects home to complete and pray over privately. Finally, when the quilts are complete, they are taken to Sunday worship, where the entire congregation prays over them while tying prayer knots.
It s almost like a tangible Holy Spirit, said Annah Hiers, St. John s director of youth ministries. We have toddlers coming to the altar on Sundays to tie knots, and 90-year-olds. It s bringing together all ages and interests in globalization.
As of December, more than two-dozen quilts have been given to those in need of prayer, including one for the church s daycare. That quilt hangs just outside the daycare door, where all who enter may stop, tie a knot and say a prayer.
Lisa Wilson, the church s daycare director, said knowing people are praying for her daycare kids through the quilt knots just blesses me to my bones.
Henson said she s heard from the families of quilt recipients how much they have appreciated them. She said one man requested no flowers at his funeral, yet the family allowed the coffin to be draped in the quilt because it meant more to him than anything else in his last few months.
Another quilter, Sue Ansley, knew a woman who passed away with her quilt wrapped around her. It made me feel warm inside to know we played a part in encouraging her, Ansley said.
Quilter Mary Bess Johnson agreed: A lot of joy comes from doing something you know someone s going to hold and snuggle.
The Rev. John Mims, St. John s senior pastor, said the quilts can almost be compared to a laying-on of hands “ it s a tangible expression of prayer reflecting the heartfelt love of the full church.
It s phenomenal “ the entire congregation is involved, Mims said. It s not just the group of ladies; it s the spirit of the entire church as the quilt is blessed on the altar. They all come down, even the youth, to tie the knots. It s amazing. ¦ You put your hands on the quilt and you re just overwhelmed.
Hiers noted how scientific tests demonstrate the power of a soft touch “ and the power of prayer. She said the prayer quilts are a channel of God s love and mercy “ literally, through your hands, a conduit.
And not only does it help the quilt recipients, but also the quilters and those who add their prayers by tying knots.
On Sunday mornings, when the full congregation is invited to tie knots and pray over the quilts at the altar, Henson said the children are especially intrigued.
The children want to know, ˜Now, who s that for? she said, pointing out the teaching opportunity the exercise creates.
Quilter Betty Hawkins said the ministry is so rewarding for her and her peers.
We get as much out of it as the people we give them to, Hawkins said.
After all, the quilters thoroughly enjoy each other s company, working as a team to glorify God, and often spend extra time together bargain-shopping for material.
We have a ball “ it s lots of fun, Johnson said, hugging one of her fellow quilters as they prepare to piece together their latest project: a spring-themed pink and grass-green floral quilt.
At the end of the day, the quilters are all quick to point out that the quilt ministry has nothing to do with the quilt at all. It s all about the prayer, the love and the Christian touch of a church doing all it can to serve the Lord. It s about reaching out and showing the love of Jesus any way they can.
Our mission concept is to spread the kingdom of God, and to do that we ve got to go outside the church, Mims said.
With nearly two-dozen handcrafted quilts given in Christian love to date “ and only a third of those to church members “ they re on the right track.