Prayer quilts provide comfort & hope

They call it “playing material” and often find themselves laughing as they try to figure out ways to use all types of donated material and turn it into attractive quilts, but the fruit of their labor is on a far more serious note.

For 10 years Viola Pfannkuch and Phyllis Opperman of Manning, IA, have been making quilts which bring hope and comfort to recipients. The quilts are given to people who are very ill or facing serious problems on behalf of Manning’s Presbyterian Church.

The prayer quilt idea was brought to the Manning church in 1996 by Phyllis after she attended church with her daughter, Debra, in San Diego, CA.

“I though it was a good idea,” said Phyllis. “People don’t have to be dying to receive a quilt. They are for those who are in need.”

Viola added, “It doesn’t make any difference which church they belong to.”

A member of the Presbyterian congregation can request a quilt for anyone. Church members request a quilt, make their selection, and prayers are then added.

With strings extending from its pattern, the quilt lays on a table at the church on Sunday morning along with a note as to who the quilt is for. As people enter or leave the church they stop, say a prayer and tie a knot.

“Sometimes, if the quilt is a larger one and all the strings are not tied, they are left that way so family members can tie them and add their prayers,” Viola commented.

Double knots are tied if all the strings are tied before all the prayers are included.

The women usually will tackle three or four quilts at a time. They work to keep at least six quilts available at the church so whenever a member needs one they can select a quilt that appears appropriate for the recipient and put it out on Sunday morning.

“They aren’t all the same size,” said Viola. “It depends on what we have to work with; they’re all different. We try to put them together so they look nice.”

Phyllis credits Viola for her sewing skills; each quilt is neatly sewn and pressed.

“You don’t see corners that don’t match on Viola’s. She does nice work,” said Phyllis. “We’re a team. She sews them and I design them. I cut the pieces. Sometimes she will call me and say, ‘I can’t figure out what you want me to do with this one’.”

The women laugh about some of the puzzling designs, especially on one occasion when Phyllis couldn’t remember how she planned for it to go together. She sometimes includes a drawing. The women work with a wide assortment of material which is stored in the Opperman basement.

Viola declared that regardless of how long they live, they will never get it all sewn.

“The material just comes. It is one of those situations where God provides,” said Phyllis. “People are very generous and most of it is new material. The problem is coordinating. Sometimes we do it well and sometimes, well …the important thing is the thought and purpose of the quilts.”

She shared a quilt story about her daughter, Beth, a fifth-grade teacher in Geneseo, IL, who asked for a prayer quilt three years ago for one of her students who was diagnosed with cancer. Phyllis sent it. The little girl was given the quilt and went into remission. Now; however, the eighth grader is not doing well. During a recent visit Phyllis took another quilt, this one for the girl’s mother to help her through this difficult time.

Phyllis and Viola find the work satisfying. Since the ministry began, 109 prayer quilts have been distributed.

Prayer Quilt History
A note accompanies each quilt explaining the history behind the quilts which began with the Prayers and Squares Ministry at Hope Methodist Church in San Diego. One member of a quilting group had a grandson, Kody, who was hospitalized in a coma, not expected to live. The group decided to make a quilt for him and pray for him as they worked. Each time a quilter would hand-tie a knot, she would say a silent prayer. The quilt was taken to the hospital and given to the child. The family asked that the quilt stay with him so that he would be “covered in prayer.” Kody came out of the coma and the family rejoiced and thanked God for the quilters and their prayers.

Meanwhile, the mother of another child in the hospital with Kody asked if the quilters would make a quilt for her son who was growing weak as he waited for a kidney transplant. The quilters went to work stitching and praying.

Suddenly the group had a bigger purpose than just the fun of quilting. The gift of a prayer quilt became a quiet affirmation of faith, each knot representing a prayer for the person in need, believing that God hears prayers and that He has the power to comfort and heal.

The mother of a five-year-old girl, Emily, who died of leukemia, wrote a letter to the quilters thanking them for the prayer quilt made for Emily while she was sick. She wrote that Emily liked the quilt and showed it off to all the doctors and nurses. She said the quilt comforted Emily, as well as her family, knowing the love and prayers that went into it. It was the only blanket used and it was always touching the child in some way. The letter went on to say that the mother is still comforted by the quilt when she holds it, stating, “This is very healing for me to still be able to smell her and feel so close to her. I am grateful for that. The prayer quilt is still healing our family and it always will.”

The message from the Presbyterian Women of Manning as they present a prayer quilt states, “May the love of God surround you and your loved ones as God’s healing power and love shine through.”

Wava Lorenzen of Manning, whose late husband, Jack received a quilt, describes the prayer quilt as wonderful. Reflecting on how it felt to be a recipient, Wava said, “It makes you feel very, very humble. He (Jack) was in Des Moines at the time; it was during his first round in 1999. It made us both feel like there were many people thinking about him, and the fact that the quilt didn’t come from our own congregation was especially heartwarming. It’s very special, it truly is. I felt, at the time, that it really did make a difference. He came around and was able to live four more years.”

Wava said her sister-in-law in Missouri picked up the idea and they began the practice in her church, calling it Caring Ministry.

Lyle Arp of Manning was another quilt recipient when he was hospitalized with serious heart problems about 10 years ago. He, too, called it a wonderful gift.

“It is just great to be thought of by people like that; to think of you and care for you,” Lyle stated. “I enjoy the quilt so much. I use it a lot and every time I look at it I think about the fine people that thought of me through my illness. It’s fantastic.”

This article, written by Publisher Pam Kusel, was first printed in the Manning News Journal, Manning, IA. Reprinted with permission.

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