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Women of the cloth: Hastings quilting group takes a sew and pray approach

Members of the River of Life Quilters at River of Life Church in Hastings recently made quilts whose squares represented a different woman in the Bible. Organizer and instructor Jeanne Schanink (left) lifts a quilt made by Jan Salo (right). William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia

"What ye sew, so shall ye reap" might be the motto for the Quilters Club at River of Life Church in Hastings.

Their Monday night quilting bees double as a prayer group, where needle and thread assume a life their own under skilled fingers, stories are shared and hearts are bared.

Quilters need not be affiliated with the church, instructor Jeanne Schanink said.

"It's a community outreach, meaning that anyone within the community who wants to come, can," Schanink said. "We don't throw the Bible at people as they're walking in the door. We just give them a taste of it."

They based their program on a quilting retreat at Camp Lebanon, a Christian retreat in Morrison County in central Minnesota. Members work on their own individual quilt.

"It's an open group," Schanink said. "We've got a lot of widows in our group. It's a place for them to let their hair down and show their emotions."

The group recently completed a series of quilts themed "Women of the Bible." Each patterned block in the quilt represented famous and not-so-famous women from the Old and New Testaments.

Mary and Mary Magdalene are household names. Then there's Asenath, a woman in the book of Genesis who was the wife of Jacob. Puah was an Egyptian midwife in the Book of Exodus who defied the Pharaoh's order to destroy all male Hebrew children immediately after they were born. Some women weren't even named in the Bible.

"It was perfect for our group," she said. "It was learning to do a quilt square but it was learning about women most of us had never really known about. It was really eye-opening."

They worked from an illustrated pattern book purchased from Stichin' Tree, in Harlan, Iowa. Each of the 40 fabric blocks in the book accompanied by a Bible verse.

The books are the creation of quilt designer Teresa Coenen. Among her other products, Coenen sells faith-based pattern books, including Boys of the Bible and The Ten Commandments. Stitchin' Tree also features secular quilt designs and other services.

"Different church groups pay for the rights to illustrate these patterns," she said. "That's part of my mission in life is to get it out there and in front of women."

A former high school principal, Coenen also operates a quilters retreat in nearby Woodbine. She stages trunk shows at churches around the country and has fielded requests for quilt designs from as far away as England.

Most of the patterns are in the public domain, but Coenen creates a biblical context for each.

One square, titled Patience Corner, she linked with Sarah, the wife of Abraham. As described in the book of Genesis, Sarah got fed up waiting for God to fulfill a promise that she would have a child.

"I chose that block for Sarah because she had to be patient for God to give her a baby," Coenen said. "She was 90 years old when she conceived.

"God has a plan," she added. "He'll implement his plan in his time. Not necessarily our time in today's society when we want everything immediately that's hard to take."

She doesn't mind if her quilting clientele share the squares with others.

"It's just for a way for them to continue the ministry outside the quilt I designed," she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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