Blankets of Hope: Bethlehem UMC reaches out to the suffering through prayer-filled comfort ministry

By Brady Hammond

JOHNSTON—It has been an unusually rough day, the rain is beating against your windows relentlessly and you just want to curl up with your favorite blanket and forget the world. Sometimes nothing can brighten your mood like the comfort of that old familiar quilt.

But for the ladies of Bethlehem United Methodist Church, Johnston, blankets have come to carry far more meaning than merely comfort.

A few years ago, a new member of Bethlehem UMC came to Grace King and her daughter Rose Ann Berry with an idea for a ministry. The idea was simple: Make blankets, pray over them and donate them to children in need.

King and Berry took the idea and ran with it.

Now, every month a group of six or seven women, including King and Berry, get together on a Saturday to make these Blankets of Hope. With fabric donated from church members and people in the community, the women sort pieces, plan patterns and sew as much as they can. A lot of the work has to be done individually at home, but the women still get together every month to compile their efforts.

Some women are more experienced sewers and create more elaborate patterns. Some are still learning and opt for simpler styles. When Berry first joined she wasn t much of a sewer, preferring to cut and iron. But now that she has learned how to sew through the other women, she much prefers it.

I m still not very good, Berry said. I ve still got a long ways to go. But we have a real nice time and a real good group that works together well.

Once a group of blankets have been completed, the women take them into the sanctuary, and the pastor and congregation lay hands on them. They pray over the blankets so those who receive them will know God is with them and will comfort them in their time of need.

Once the blankets have been prayed over, they are donated to a variety of people throughout the community. In the beginning, they were given to children with terminal illnesses, but today, they are also donated to local hospitals, fire departments, children s homes and others who are suffering in one way or another, whether a child, an adult or an entire family. So far, about 150 blankets have been made, prayed over and donated, including three dozen that have gone to Epworth Children s Home in Columbia.

The recipients of these blankets tell the women that not only do they find comfort and hope in them, but peace and fellowship, as well. King recalled a young girl in her neighborhood suffering from a brain tumor. The Bethlehem women made a blanket for her, and now the little girl takes it with her to her chemotherapy treatments.

Her mother says she takes her blanket with her every time she goes, King said.

Berry said she thinks the people who receive the blankets understand that God is with them, and so are those who made and prayed over their blanket. They don t feel quite so alone.

But the mission does not only benefit those who receive the quilts; the Blankets of Hope volunteers say they are equally blessed.

You do things sometimes, regardless of what ministry you re in, hoping it touches somebody, but a lot of times you don t know the impact you re having, Berry said. But when you do get that little bit of feedback, it s worthwhile.

The women often get thank you letters and follow-up calls all the time letting them know just how much of an impact these blankets have on their community.

King said simply, We just really enjoy doing it.

Bethlehem s pastor, the Rev. William Hightower, said Blankets of Hope has done great things for the church and the community.

I think it s a great ministry, Hightower said. It reaches out to all people, especially when they re sick and in the hospital.

What started as a small idea to help children with terminal illnesses has now grown into a ministry that benefits its community in ways the volunteers never imagined. Years later, these women are still cutting, sewing, and praying to provide hope to those who may otherwise not have it.

We would be happy to have anyone else join us that would want to, King said. And we do accept donations of any kind.

You have to keep doing what you can for the Lord, Berry added. Furthering God s kingdom here on earth “ that s what it s all about.

To help Blankets of Hope in any way, contact King at 803-275-4440.

Hammond is the Advocate s spring editorial intern and is a senior at Clemson University.

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