Mary Ann Pensel didn't know much about knitting when she decided to start a small group ministry for women at her church. Kay Coffey wasn't exactly sure what to anticipate when she organized a women's craft club for her congregation.
But both have joined a nationwide trend among churches -- using crafts as ministry and outreach tools. Quilting groups have long been a staple of women's ministries at local churches, whether or not they fell under such categories, but churches are expanding into knitting and crochet, scrapbooks and other crafts. What they've discovered is that the popularity of crafts are an easy way to make connections with women.
A group from St. Augustine Catholic Church in Kelso, Mo., meets on Monday afternoons to work on quilts.
The ladies have been gathering since 1981, when Viola Gosche first got a group together to quilt. The women use their talents to raise extra money for the parish. Raffle tickets are sold by the 10 circles that quilt and the money is used to benefit the church. Each month, when a quilt is completed, a drawing is held to select a raffle winner to receive the hand-stitched quilt.
Pensel found her craft ministry inspiration while watching a woman knit during a state denominational conference. It turned out that the woman was part of a prayer shawl ministry group at her own church. She shared the directions for her project with Pensel, who tucked them away thinking it would be fun to start a similar group at Grace United Methodist Church, where she is a member.
But when Pensel got the reading list for the United Methodist Women's groups, one of the books stuck out -- "Knitting into the Mystery." So Pensel formed a small group based on that book.
The knitters pray over every stitch, offering blessings for new life if they're knitting a baby blanket or praying for healing or grieving families if they're knitting a shawl for a terminally ill person.
The group's size and membership fluctuates, but it's mostly women although men are welcome. There are some "expert" knitters and crocheters among them who offer advice and lessons for beginners.
Like the knitting group, craft club meetings at Lynwood Baptist Church also begin with a devotion and Scripture reading before moving on to the night's project.
At Tuesday night's gathering, the women learned about flower arranging from guest Elena Perryman. She talked about her own church's craft ministry and her talent for arranging. Perryman attends Bethel Assembly of God Church and handles the decorating and floral arrangements.
Often, Perryman uses the book "Bouquets and Blessings" for inspiration, or finds a Scripture verse to guide her projects.
Jerrie Rhoads and her daughter, Haley, worked together on a floral arrangement for Haley's room. Rhoads has been coming to all the craft club meetings and thinks it wonderful that churches consider crafts as an outreach.
"It makes complete sense," she said. "Women don't have the time and don't want to find the craft. So this makes it easier if one's been chosen and everything is here for you."
Coffey and a team of women in the church pool ideas and take suggestions for the crafts they'll offer during a club night. So far they've made stepping stones centered on a Thanksgiving theme, created brooches for Valentine's Day, made a prayer bottle and floating candle arrangement.
Coffey said the ministry began with a suggestion from a church member who had participated in such events in another congregation. To encourage women to join, a sample of the next month's project is usually on display with a sign-up sheet in the church foyer.
Turnout is usually between 15 and 20 women, depending on the project, and it's often a different group every time, which helps the women get to know each other outside of a worship setting, Rhoads said.
The same is true for the scrapbooking "Crop 'til you drop" events at the church. Linda Ewbank sees them as an opportunity for women to invite friends and share in a fun craft. She shares a lot of Scripture than can correlate to the projects women are working on, and encourages them to add the verses to their books.
"Later your family will know you had faith in God and it sustained you through the years," she said.
She's seen heritage books, wedding albums, baby books and even albums for a girlfriend's birthday. "I give a crop talk and a lot of ideas," Ewbank said. But she always encourages journalizing, so that relatives years later will know the story. "The story is just as important as the pictures."
Jan Kinsey had the pictures but didn't know what to do with her boxes until she started coming to scrapbook night.
She started small, with a book on her son's band activities and then did a similar book for her daughter's sports activities before moving on to bigger albums.
One of her favorite projects was a book commemorating her mother, who died when Kinsey was 19. "I had some of her recipes and did a smaller book with photos." Completing that project "gave me a warm feeling to realize how much I did love her," Kinsey said.
Ewbank, who also is a Creative Memories consultant, talks about "faithbooking" too during her classes. Faithbooking is a way of showing God's influence in a family's life, and of collecting photos of family and friends for whom you regularly pray.
"You can pray over it as you go through your devotional each day," she said. The books include Scriptures and journals spiritual events as well.
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