by Tammy Sakry
At times the room is full of talking and laughter. Other times it is quiet except for the sound of the sewing machines stitching together warm quilts.
For six years the 20-plus members of the Stitch, Study and Share ministry have been wrapping people in a warm embrace.
It started when long-time friends Penny Rodman and Cindy Shaw were heading into retirement and wanted to spend more time with their friends.
After brainstorming on what they could do, the two Lord of Life Lutheran Church members came up with the concept for a new ministry.
Before approaching the church with the plan, they gathered 10 of their friends, both from the church and from other places, to discuss the idea.
“We wanted to share our love of learning how to quilt. We wanted to learn together and study,” said Rodman.
The group was enthusiastic about the idea.
“But we wanted to do more than get together and sew,” she said.
During the monthly meetings, the 20-plus-member group starts with a devotional and a prayer, sometimes over the quilts they have created.
In addition to Bible study, they have also used the books of Joyce Rupp, including “Fresh Bread.”
While the group is spending some time on the stitching and studying, it’s the sharing part that has touched the hearts of many people, most of whom the group members don’t know.
The first quilts the group made were cuddly flannel baby blankets, said Shaw, who has been quilting for about eight years.
Blankets are donated to children in need through the Ronald McDonald House, Anoka County Brotherhood Council food bank and Abba Pregnancy Resource Center of Elk River.
Three years ago, the group added prayer quilts to their list.
“We heard about a prayer ministry that made (lap) quilts, (which) appealed to us,” Rodman said.
Members of the group researched the ministry and adapted it to the Stitch, Study and Share ministry.
After each prayer quilt is finished, ties are attached on several squares.
When asked if they want a quilt, the recipient is asked if there are any prayers they want made, said Rodman, who has been quilting for 10 years.
As the group members say a prayer over the quilt, they tie a knot on the strings, Shaw said.
They also place the quilts on the back of the pew in the church sanctuary for the congregation to pray over as well during Prayer Sunday.
Although the quilts cost around $30 for just the fabric and take a couple of days of straight sewing, there is no charge to the family.
“They are made with love and we put a lot of time, love and prayers into them,” Rodman said.
Some of the quilts have gone to Canada, Arizona and throughout the state of Minnesota.
Group member Natalie Steffan took some of the baby quilts with her to Mongolia a few years ago.
One was given to her driver, who had welcomed a new baby into his family after losing a child in a fire, Steffan said.
“(The quilts) are really, really simple things. It touches people’s hearts in a very special way when they have a need,” Shaw said.
As the group is making the quilts, a lot of tears, laughter and prayers go into them, she said.
“It means a lot to people to be prayed for and cared for,” Shaw said.
“And to know that other people care about what they are going through and other people are thinking about them, loving them and praying for them,” Rodman said.
The quilts are given as a present from God, to put loving arms around them, Shaw said.
Not all of the group members, like Steffan, quilt.
The “stitch” could mean embroidery or crocheting, Steffan said.
Some members had little quilting experience when they started and some did not quilt at all, said Rodman.
There are some members of the group who just come to put the ties on the prayer quilts and others help cut the squares for the quilts, she said.
As quilters, “we are learning techniques from each other,” Shaw said.
During the monthly meetings, which are held at the Ramsey church on the second Thursdays of the month, the members come together to work on the quilts or their own projects.
But sometimes not a lot of stitching is done.
There are some nights that there are a lot of tears, laughter and a need to share a lot, Shaw said.
Members share their worries about lost jobs, their children or elderly parents.
“It’s the gambit,” Rodman said.
Even Rodman has enjoyed the comfort of the group as her son battles cancer.
“The group has been a huge support for me,”she said.
It was a privilege for her to give her son his prayer quilt from the group, Rodman said.
As each quilt gets ready to go to its new owner, a picture is taken of it and the recipient’s information is recorded with it.
In the first year, the group gave 51 baby quilts.
Since then about 500 baby quilts have been made and given and about 50–60 prayer quilts are made a year.
The group keeps growing as well.
“I am surprised on how many people have come and people keep coming,” Rodman said.
The group has people from Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, Elk River, Ham Lake, Nowthen and Coon Rapids.
Most people are between 40 and 70 years old, but there are a couple of middle schoolers who join their grandmothers at the sewing table.
Nowthen resident Deb Urista was one of the original members.
The church used to have a sewing group that met 30 years ago to cut old clothes apart and stitch together quilts from them and send them overseas, she said.
Stitch, Study and Share is a great idea, Urista said.
It is a great group of people doing great things for the community, she said.
“I love how giving a baby quilt makes me feel,” Urista said.
And the need for the quilts grows every year, she said.
To be able to wrap a quilt around her sister-in-law, who has cancer, was a pretty powerful, Urista said.
“It’s emotional. (Her sister-in-law) was glad to get it. To know people prayed for her,” she said.
But the quilts are not only given to those facing a life-threatening illness.
“They go to anyone having a hard time, physically or mentally. They are for anyone who needs a warm embrace,” said Urista, who co-owns Coldwell Banker Vision, Elk River.
Ramsey resident Judy Jurek was one of the beginner quilters to join the group two years ago.
“I did a little bit of quilting, but sewed as part of my job,” said Jurek, a retired Letterman Sports employee.
When Jurek retired, she joined the group because she wanted to learn to quilt.
Since joining Stitch, Study and Share, Jurek has stitched together eight baby quilts and four to five prayer quilts.
Making and giving baby quilts is very different from the prayer quilts, she said.
The baby quilts are a smaller experience. They are fun and putting it together is a joy, Jurek said.
Putting together a prayer quilt is more intricate and there is a deeper meaning behind it, she said.
As the group has grown, so have the friendships.
“I feel I could share anything with them,” Urista said.
As she has learned quilting, Jurek said she has made new friends and reconnected with old friends.
“I have learned so much in the last two years,” she said, from putting the squares together, binding the edges and Bible study.
The sewing is fun and interesting and the Bible study and sharing — the whole thing is important, she said.
This is a great group and the members have become friends, Jurek said.
Although friends for 40 years, Shaw and Rodman both agree their own relationship has deepened.
“(This group) is very special. I have learned so much from the group and we have grown so much. Our friendships have blossomed,” Shaw said.
“It’s been wonderful. It is one of the strongest ministries in our church in the last few years,” she said.