Women’s Sewing Circle’s final meeting and celebration after 96 years of faith-building and service.
On December 10, 2019 Elmira Mennonite WMCEC met for the last time to quilt and knot comforters. The motto of WMCEC is based on 1 Peter 4:10: "Each one should use whatever gift (she) has received to serve others, faithfully administrating God's grace in its various forms." It was a day of remembering and reflection and was commemorated by partaking in a cake decorated as a pieced quilt.
The first women's mission organization in Ontario began in 1910 in response to a need for children’s clothing (Toronto Fresh Air Mission). The first groups met in homes to sew clothes, then later, in church buildings. During World War I, interest in relief work was the incentive for the formation of many women's societies in Mennonite congregations. ("In Search of Promised Lands", by Samuel Steiner, pg. 176-177). Sewing circles (WMSC or WMCEC) have been channels of God’s love and compassion, demonstrated in practical ways, and in a broader context than what one might be able to do individually.
Countless articles of clothing, comforters, blankets and beautiful quilts have been pieced, stitched, knotted and bound through the years, to keep people warm and to brighten their journey. Some quilts were crafted for aesthetic value, and sold at relief sales with the proceeds going to support mission and service projects. Monthly offerings in local groups go beyond the batting, fabric and thread needed to make blankets, to support housing projects, food banks, the House of Friendship and other charities. Money, time and effort, have been channeled through women to those in need.
As well as providing blankets and clothing for those in need, sewing circles provided opportunities for meaningful conversation and sharing among women. Current plans are for the Elmira women to continue a monthly meeting, giving opportunity for women to gather in a group to knit and crochet and make items for the relief sale, MCC thrift stores or for needs within the community.
The Creation story in Genesis tells that human beings have been made in the image of a Creative God. As God’s nearest relatives, it’s not surprising that we carry in our DNA the yearning to create and something of God’s love of the creative.
On a recent Sunday morning the Elmira Mennonite Church gathered to celebrate that God is the great Creator and has built into the DNA of people the impulse to create. Simply called “Arts Appreciation Day”, the day was designed as a multigenerational, multisensory, experiential time of worship and learning.
After beginning with a time of hymns and prayers, the congregation was divided into three large, intergenerational groups. These groups rotated through the building to different learning centres. In each centre, an artist introduced a different form of art or creative expression and helped the group understand how faith and values are expressed through their art.
Eugene Gostikov introduced us to the art of working with clay. As we passed around samples of clay and some of his finished sculptures, Eugene talked about the challenges and rewards each piece. Eugene is a self-taught sculpture whose love for working with clay grew out of a time of childhood illness when his parents gave him a gift of molding clay as a past time.
Drawing on his experience as a long time high school drama teacher and congregational song leader, Gord Davis led a workshop which incorporated poetry, singing and movement. First, Gord told about the long and rich history of drama in the church. He walked us through the theology of the song, “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings” (HWB # 596) and taught us to sing it. Finally, we stood and added movement to the words.
In a more meditative setting, retired teacher, Betty Dyck, and elementary school art teacher, Jennifer Phillips, led a session on appreciating the fine arts. Drawing upon their skills as art critics and art historians, Betty and Jennifer invited us to reflect on how the artist expresses their message through perspective, colour, light and darkness.
After the formal time of worship and learning, all generations moved to the church fellowship hall for the “Festival of the Arts”, organized by Brenda Snider. Here more than two dozen painters, woodworkers, fabric artists, collectors, writers and photographers displayed their creations and gladly interacted with inquisitive friends.
Although it took many outside of their Sunday morning comfort zones, there was strong affirmation for the experience. It was a great opportunity to experience multisensory, intergenerational worship. Surprisingly, the easiest piece of the day to organize was the “Festival of the Arts”. As word spread, people with creative gifts which had largely been hidden from public view volunteered to participate. Those things about which we are passionate and from which we derive both challenge and reward, we gladly seek to share.