When United Methodist Women members in the Great Plains Conference decided they wanted to commemorate the 150th anniversary of United Methodist Women in 2019, they decided to put the crafting skills of women in Kansas and Nebraska to work making a quilt. But this is no ordinary quilt.
Built into each stitch is a love for God, a desire to commemorate the work of the past and a legacy of mission that provides hope for the future—all contained within the imagery from predecessor organizations as well as all 17 Great Plains Conference districts.
“I think the people who have seen the quilt so far have looked at the conference differently than they have before,” said Louise Niemann, a member at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in David City, Nebraska, and chair of the South Central Jurisdiction’s United Methodist Women Committee on Nominations. “This quilt is something that creates a legacy while also promoting unity throughout the conference.”
The heirloom is officially known as the Legacy Quilt. The goal is to promote the Legacy Fund, a forward-looking, permanently invested endowment to help future members of United Methodist Women be in mission. The earnings are expected to strengthen the organization so that future giving can be even more directly linked to projects and partners that address injustice and alleviate suffering.
Leaving a legacy
“The Legacy Fund will make it possible to keep mission projects going throughout the world for at least another 150 years,” said Marilyn Zehring, a member of First United Methodist Church in Columbus, Nebraska, and chair of the United Methodist Women’s Great Plains Conference Legacy Fund. She explained that the quilt spotlights the unique aspects of the conference’s 17 districts while also celebrating predecessor organizations, such as the Woman’s Society of Christian Service of the Methodist Church, the Women’s Society of World Service, of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the former Kansas East and West conferences and the former Nebraska Conference.
A brochure that provides details about the imagery in each square states that United Methodist Women identifies its roots as a meeting between eight women on March 23, 1869, at Tremont Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston. That first group of women wanted to address the needs of women in India. The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society began and raised money to send a doctor and a teacher to that country.
“Clara Swain and Isabella Thoburn started a hospital and a school,” Zehring said, “and they are still in use today.”
A team effort
The quilt truly was a group effort, with more than 25 women from Kansas and Nebraska, along with one from Missouri, crafting 23 blocks.
“It took about a year to pull it all together,” Zehring said.
Quilter Carol Benninga, a member at Clay Center United Methodist Church in Kansas, helped lead the effort on the quilt by designing it and determining the placement for each square. The squares were sent to women in each district, who decided the image for their square and then sent the completed piece to Benninga to be stitched into the final product. Susie Randle of Morganville, Kansas, did the hand quilting, and Benninga provided finishing work.
“It was exciting to go to the mailbox each day and see what came in,” Benninga said.
After consultation with others, she determined the overall size of the quilt, but she didn’t determine the color of the borders and corner pieces until many of the district pieces had arrived at her home, where she has a special quilt room in a building that also includes a wood shop built by her husband. Ultimately, Benninga decided to use a shade of beige.
“I knew I wanted to use neutrals because I really wanted the blocks to stand out,” she said.
And stand out they do. Benninga crafted the Great Plains Conference name and squares that pay tribute to previous women’s groups. The United Methodist Women motto of “faith, hope and love in action” takes up three sections at the top. The remainder of the quilt honors the three previous conferences that comprise the current Great Plains and special imagery for each of the 17 districts.
Zehring said the completed quilt will be on display at the annual conference session June 13-16 in Wichita and the conference United Methodist Women’s annual meeting Sept. 14-15 at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, before it begins an itinerancy to all districts. She believes the tour likely will take about two years.
Niemann said the quilt is one way to remember what United Methodist Women has stood for during its nearly 150 years of service in mission to the world.
“Social justice issues were taken up by women,” Niemann said. “We take action today for the women who will come after us through faith, hope and love.”
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church.