General Conference 2016

Ye of Little Faith … Gather Labyrinths!

United Methodist Women members quilt finger labyrinths to help General Conference delegates make time for quiet prayer.

Ye of Little Faith … Gather Labyrinths!

“Quilted with love by United Methodist Women.” Karen Stroupe prepares a greeting card for a finger labyrinth.

Deaconess Debbie Pittman doubted that she would procure the expected 2,000 finger labyrinths that the United Methodist Women Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner planned for the prayer room at General Conference. It seemed like a lot.

“‘O ye, of little faith’ … I should’ve known better with United Methodist Women!” Ms. Pittman said. She’s been working overtime, gathering the thousands of finger labyrinths—at least 2,000, in fact—that arrived in increments of three to 15, in hundreds of boxes and envelopes from all over the United States.

The pot-holder sized labyrinths were sent to Brooks-Howell Home, a United Methodist Women-owned and supported retirement home for retired missionaries and deaconesses in Asheville, North Carolina, where over the course of two workdays volunteers gathered, hole-punched cards and attached the cards to the labyrinths. They were then forwarded to Portland, Oregon, where they will join dozens of additional finger labyrinths from United Methodist Women in the Portland area. These finger labyrinths will be distributed in the prayer room for weary General Conference delegates looking for respite from the stresses and strains of seemingly endless policymaking.

Each hand-held labyrinth is unique, whether machine-made or hand-stitched. Before they were sent, some United Methodist Women circles blessed their finger labyrinths with prayer, others walked their own church labyrinths as part of the blessing.

The joyful and challenging process of creation
Creating the finger labyrinths brought Susan Walsh, a new member of United Methodist Women at Seward United Methodist Church in Nebraska, closer to the women of her circle. When she joined the monthly Mission Sewing Day, she made new friends. She found making the labyrinths challenging but rewarding.

“I was overwhelmed by the pattern on the first one,” she said initially, “but as I made a few more, it became more intriguing and somewhat inspirational, thinking about who might get my particular labyrinth and what their thoughts would be.” Ms. Walsh hoped her prayer labyrinths would be a vessel for spiritual direction or inner calm.

Sandy Clapp of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, believes the process of making or walking a labyrinth is centering.

“A labyrinth is a way to find focus in an often chaotic world so that the still, small voice of God has a chance to be heard. It is a method to quiet mind and body and intentionally find a place to connect with the God who waits to speak to us,” she said.

The experience reminded Shirley Fratta of First United Methodist Church of Williamstown, New Jersey, of a spiritual retreat she had attended with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of United Methodist Women.

“I remember how centered I became when I was walking the labyrinth and I thought this was a great ideal for delegates to have during the Conference,” she said. “This is going to be a very important conference, and I thought that the delegates needed as much help as they could get so they could listen to what the Lord was telling them.”

Kay West, too, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, recalled walking the labyrinth in her church’s gym.

“To me this relates to our faith, our hope and our mission in action.”
Many women found the experience of creating the small labyrinth joyful.

“It was fun to choose fabric mindful of the person who might receive this labyrinth and thinking how the different colors and fabric design symbolized the many different women who make up United Methodist Women,” said Ms. Clapp, “and yet the labyrinths were all made the same way and would be used for the same purpose. Stitches and prayers for the one who would receive it bound the labyrinth together before it was shared with another person seeking to grow in discipleship,” said Ms. Clapp.

Ms. Fratta enjoyed “looking through my fabric and putting colors together to make a pleasant labyrinth for someone to have and use. I tried to find prints that were pretty and warming. A few of mine had flower prints, and two had baby bears and other baby animals of the forest. I coordinated the floss color. I wanted them to be something that the delegates would appreciate having and could use after the conference too.”

Home Missioner Gary Locklear noticed some stress level rise as the deadline loomed at his home church in Front Sandy Plains United Methodist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina. But naturally, he noted, United Methodist Women became cheerleaders, encouraging and mentoring one another to the finished art object.

Carol Cooper of Riverton United Methodist Women in Riverton, Wyoming, discussed the project’s meaning with the fabric arts ministry who took on the task. She reported that each finger labyrinth took approximately one hour to complete.

“Since our church had recently finished a large outdoor walking labyrinth that is heavily used for prayer and meditation, we understood how these finger labyrinths would be a great tool for the delegates besides being a meaningful keepsake from the conference,” she said. “This activity shows United Methodist Women are willing to help in any way we can. If we see a valid project we are willing to give it a try. It also shows women of the church are varied in their talents.”

Ms. Clapp saw this activity as fulfilling the mission of United Methodist Women as a community of women whose purpose is to know God.

“The labyrinth is a tool to use in developing that kind of relationship with God. Hand-making these labyrinths to be shared with our sisters in Christ fulfills our purpose to be a creative, supportive fellowship. It is typical of United Methodist Women to hear of a need and invest their time, talent and resources to meet that need. The labyrinths were sent on their way with the certainty that God would use them to be a blessing, bring God glory and build up the kin-dom.”

At least one of the delegates involved in the making or shipping of the labyrinths will also be receiving one as a delegate.

“As a delegate I have received several gifts from other groups. Coming from the United Methodist Women takes on a different meaning. I think the women will be surprised when I return from General Conference with a labyrinth,” said Mr. Locklear. “It will be then that I will get to tell the story of our connection as a home missioner to the United Methodist Women. I would not be surprised if we receive many inquiries about the deaconess and home missioner program as a result of this project by our United Methodist Women.

Ms. Fratta of Greater New Jersey, agreed.

“Doing things like this is just another way United Methodist Women will go out of their way to help make a situation better. I know whenever I hear of a request for something needed to be made, like prayer shawls, baby quilts, lap quilts, etc., United Methodist Women are right there ready to jump in and help. That is one of the reasons I enjoy so much about being part of this organization.”

Ms. Walsh, the new member of United Methodist Women, concurred.

“I am impressed that whatever is asked of the United Methodist Women in our church, we respond!”

Ms. Cooper of Wyoming hoped that the delegates would know that they were prayed for. “We hope the delegates will understand the many hands all over the country at work praying for them and supporting their work at the conference.”

Mary Beth Coudal is a teacher and writer based in New York City and interim managing editor of United Methodist Women’s response magazine.

Posted or updated: 5/9/2016 11:00:00 PM