Gift of love expressed through quilt ministry

A GROUP OF QUILTERS from West Center Baptist meet in Joyce Schrepel's basement to make quilts which they give away. Among the group that gathered this week were (left) Amy Brown, Holly Molascon, Mary Kenyon and Joyce Schrepel.

Their actions reflect the lyrics of a 16th Century hymn -- they gather together to ask the Lord's blessing, trusting Him to make His will known, trusting He is beside them and guiding them.

At first glance, that may not be obvious. Gathered in the basement of Joyce Schrepel's home, the women of West Center Baptist's quilting group are not only engaged in quilt making but also in conversation and laughter.

"It's a sweatshop," Mary Kenyon quipped, turning from the iron she was using to press stitched quilt blocks. Others laughed.

Around the basement, eight women worked on quilts in different stages of completion. Several pinned quilt tops to batting and backing at one table. At another, quilt blocks were being cut using a straight-edge and rotary cutter.

Along the back wall, Karen Logan was stitching quilt blocks. Along another Marian Wiese, like Kenyon, was pressing stitched blocks. At the center of it all, Schrepel was providing guidance.

"The main priority of the quilts is the prayer -- whether a need or praise," Amy Brown said, pausing from the work she was doing.

The multi-generational group doesn't even recall the year they began meeting to quilt, but they know they've made more than 800 quilts. Not all have been distributed. Several dozen are stored on hangers in the basement room where Schrepel keeps her stash of fabric arranged by color on shelves and in cabinets.

Each quilt is different -- not only in the fabric selection but also in the pattern used. The women credit Schrepel with finding the quilt patterns, though they admit they are responsible for some of the designs.

"If you happen to sew the blocks together wrong, she just says, `It's just a new pattern'," Kenyon related.

They also credit Schrepel with selecting the fabrics for many of the quilts. This happens, in part, because she cuts quilt blocks between meetings. Those who sew get homework assignments when they come -- pieces for a top, complete with a diagram and written instructions.

However, from time to time, Schrepel also directs the other quilters into her stash with specific instructions. Choose five fabrics for a quilt. Select fabrics suitable for a quilt for a man. Whatever the women select is used for a quilt top.

While the women attend the same church, the group is not supported by church funds. Rather, they are supported by donations -- including fabric -- from many sources, including Thrivent Financial.

A Sioux Falls woman, also a quilter but unknown to any of group members, donated her entire stash to the group when she died.

"She liked what we did and gave us over 300 yards of fabric," said Schrepel.

To date, 778 quilts have been distributed. Among recent recipients were the teachers who attend their church and the Sunday School personnel. However, quilts have also been distributed to firefighters and law enforcement officers.

"The thing with those groups is to recognize those who serve quietly," Kenyon explained.

Other quilts have gone to those who are ill, who have suffered trauma in their lives, who need encouragement or are engaged in mission work. The women don't know how many quilts they've sent overseas -- to Africa, China, Haiti, Brazil, Japan and Indonesia.

They also don't know many of the local recipients. If they hear of someone in need or read about someone in the paper, they pray over a quilt for that individual. The quilt is then given to the person for whom they prayed.

"It's not about us. It's about the prayers," said Stephanie Schubert, one of the quilters.

The women don't plan quilts for specific recipients, but they've often seen God's hand at work when they give a quilt. The thank-you notes received frequently indicate the fabric or colors have significance for the recipient.

Schubert can testify to this. She and her husband received a welcome quilt when they joined the church.

"It was perfect for us," she said.

Kenyon related the story of giving a quilt to a neighbor whose husband had died. Because he was an avid gardener, she chose one with blocks that had a floral pattern. She did not notice each also contained a lion's head.

When her neighbor received the blanket, she said, "How did you know that on my bucket list was hugging a big cat?"

In talking about the work they do, all of the women mention at one point or another how integral prayer is to their ministry. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, some of the group members have chosen to work at home. Those who meet always pray together.

"We work for a while and then we go upstairs and pray over three to five quilts," explained Holly Molascon.

A young mother with three children, she joined the group after she got married to meet people. Like Schubert, she has been a quilt recipient as well as a quilt maker.

"My second child was born in a van on the way to the hospital. They thought it was worthy of a quilt," Molascon noted.

She added that in addition to supporting others through the quilt ministry and prayer, the women support one another with encouragement and guidance on everything from recipes to parenting. Because the group members range in age, they bring a broad base of experience to their gatherings.

More than that, they bring the gift that St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians is the greatest of all: love.

"We want to reach out and love everybody," Schrepel said.