Quilting with purpose

Virginia Wingard UMC quilters stitch with love

By Porsche Barton

COLUMBIA—Six women sit around small work tables covered with colorful squares of fabric and sewing materials in the quilting room at Virginia Wingard United Methodist Church, working patiently with the teens beside them. The quilters—known as Fran’s Quilters—work steadily, cutting materials, creating borders and sewing together squares of fabric for the backings of the quilts they’ve been working on for the past month.

Under the leadership of the late Fran Wood, the ministry was founded in 2008 and has since discovered a deeper sense of purpose for doing what they love—quilting. And now, for the first time, Fran’s Quilters have partnered with the Neophyte Quilters, a youth quilting ministry created this summer, to share in the ministry of spreading love through the art of quilt making.

“I think it’s a wonderful ministry…one generation and another generation coming together to make a quilt, but I think it’s more than the quilt itself. It’s a relationship and a bond that will last a lifetime and beyond,” said the Rev. Scott Smoak. “Whether they make a quilt or not physically, they will recognize that they’re one square in the fabric of life, and each quilter and each child who works together are a part of a bigger quilt called life.”

The women of Fran’s Quilters combine their skills with their desire to reach out and share their love and appreciation for God and His people, and they try hard to spread that same message of love to the youth they’re mentoring.

“We’re just trying to let people know they’re loved no matter what their circumstances are, somebody’s thinking about them,” said Peggy Lipscomb, a member of Fran’s Quilters.

“They have that compassion for what they do,” Smoak said. “They see it as a ministry. They just don’t make quilts, they’re just not mentoring the kids to make quilts, they’re just giving of themselves and the kids are wanting to participate.”

Each year, the group uses their talents to give back to others by doing a project and donating quilts to various groups. Over the years, they’ve given quilts to members who were shut-in, critically ill, in a crisis situation or have made meaningful contributions to the church. They’ve also provided quilts to children baptized in the church, those who were confirmed as members, veterans, shelters, domestic violence groups and others.

The women and youth said much of the joy of being a part of this ministry is simply being able to put a smile on someone else’s face.

“It’s been a great joy to see the people that we’ve given quilts to and their reactions…particularly to the confirmands that have gotten them when they joined the church. It is a ministry we are very proud of,” said quilter Marlene Gantt. “It’s just the fact that we know that these are made with love and that we want them to be accepted in that way.”

The youth, too, said it is a blessing to be able to show others they care.

“I remember seeing my dad getting his quilt for when he was sick and …how his eyes lit up when that happened,” said 12-year-old Ana Sears. “It was amazing to see that face. It was really amazing.”

Youth Daniel Norris called it “touching.”

And at its core, the ministry serves as an extension of the loving outreach of the church, they said, and it’s been an even bigger blessing for the ministry to have been able to share them with people beyond South Carolina—and even the United States.

“It’s opened our eyes to missions around the world. We didn’t know about Malawi, Zimbabwe and other places,” said quilter JoAnn Helms, who noted they’ve also donated sewing machines to women in Malawi and given quilts to groups and individuals in Zimbabwe, Israel, Italy and more.

“You never know who gets those, but you can imagine somebody has gotten some comfort from that, that they were able to keep and they know that somebody somewhere loves them and God loves them,” said quilter Anne Cannon.

Lipscomb said the quilting ministry is self-sustaining and has grown and flourished from the materials and funds donated to them. Although materials can get really expensive, the quilters said the joy of providing others with a gift of love is priceless.

“One of the things that we have emphasized is that this isn’t not about us,” Lipscomb said. “What we do, we do for the church and for the glory of God. So it’s not about the people who make the quilts, it’s about the message that whoever receives one has a connection to this church family, and every stitch is a stitch of love, and all of these stitches in the quilts bind us together and make us one.”

And that’s the real message, she said. “It’s not about us. The gratification is being a part of this church and trying to fulfill the broader ministry of why we’re all here, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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