By Brett Hetherington*
As Ohioans continue adapting to our new phase of life brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are reaching out to churches for assistance. One request is for masks to be donated to ministries and outreach organizations such as Flat Rock Homes & Care Centers, a health and welfare agency of the East Ohio Conference. United Methodist Women (UMW) members are answering the call and firing up their sewing machines to craft masks for this ministry and more.
I recently had the pleasure of sharing a Zoom call with three women from around the EOC to discuss how they have been accomplishing this task of creating such a simple device that is contributing to protecting lives during these uncertain times.
Evy Buchanan in the Mid-Ohio District is a retired LPN (licensed practical nurse). When news first broke that the coronavirus could spread to the United States, she contacted the local hospital in Ashland and inquired what she could do for the employees there. She was connected with the nurse who was overseeing the task of outfitting individuals with masks at University Hospitals. “I thought you know, I haven’t sewed in 30 years, but I’m willing God,” she shared.
Buchanan reached out to friends in her Emmaus community and received a great response. One of the women she has brought in to help on the project has sewn 400 masks on her own!
Starting out on a borrowed sewing machine with her admittedly rusty skills, Buchanan is incredibly humble about what she has accomplished for the Kingdom of God. “Before I start sewing in the morning, I ask the Holy Spirit to bless my hands, eyes, back, material I am using, everything, before I do anything. The more I hear what needs to be done, the more I give it to God and ask Him to give me the strength to do this. It’s all bringing glory to God,” she said.
Debbie Smith, of the North Coast District, said that, “Every time I get a batch done there is a request for more.” As of this writing she has sewn in excess of 600 face masks for others!
Smith started out sewing masks for family members, choir members and older community members in her church. From there she has reached out and has been sewing for many different causes, including contributing masks for the YAC party boxes that were ordered by participants in this year’s virtual Youth Annual Conference to be held June 14.
“People seem so happy to get them,” Smith said. “I just delivered some yesterday and they are so thankful, especially with the new requirements with going into businesses and things like that. It gives them more freedom than they might otherwise have if they have that available.”
Rev. Kathy Dickriede, coordinator of Missions & Community Engagement for the East Ohio Conference, has also kept herself busy sewing masks over the past couple of months. “We need masks. I decided to put the word out in the Conference and try to start a grass-roots movement in local churches, getting people to sew and connect with local ministries,” she said.
Dickriede shared that there are many ministries and outreach organizations that have requested masks along with Flat Rock, such as the Food Bank in Cleveland – which is seeking 10,000 masks for ministry efforts – and the West Side Community House, which was in part started by UMW – which needs masks for both its volunteers and its clients.
When Dickriede heard about plans to shift YAC to a virtual gathering and to offer YAC party boxes to registrants, she pointed out the need to include a mask in each one. “I called all my sewing people to ask them to make masks for the 620 boxes.”
With so many taking-up the cause to sew masks for people they have never met, some people might get caught up in self-congratulation – but not these women. Listening to their voices tremble as they opened their hearts, it’s evident that they are using their God-given skills to help those in need.
“I keep going back to the Book of Matthew where Jesus talks about feeding the people and clothing and visiting the people in prisons and I’m just trying to do what Jesus wants me to do. To know that I’m going to protect someone – it’s just a simple mask – I’m just trying to protect the teenager, the elderly person, whoever wears this mask … I’m just doing a little part in this huge project that needs to be done. And I’m willing,” Buchanan said.
Sewing masks provides the UMW an opportunity to meet the needs of the local community and helps local churches learn what food banks, distribution centers, and daycares are in the area. It allows for our local churches to serve as a bridge between themselves and the rest of the world in a time of crisis.
“I see potential for new relationships in own communities locally, being church to the public health sector,” Dickriede shared. “Being in touch with food banks, local healthcare providers we can find out where the need is and be future partners in ministry. We can let people know that the church wants to make an impact, that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can make an impact and can be involved in saving lives in a lot of different ways.”
Sewing masks also serves as an opportunity for intergenerational ministry. Dickriede described a vision of older women taking younger women under their wing and teaching them how to sew. It’s one way that any member of a church can minister to others in their community in a real, tangible way.
Smith pointed out that you don’t have to be an experienced seamstress to contribute to this cause. “If you have time and the equipment – or even if you don’t and are willing to get involved in the cutting and things like that – there are groups of us who are starting to get together to make the masks.”
She shared about a Facebook group that started as a crafting group sewing items needed for animal victims of the Australian wildfires last year. When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the group changed direction and has since shipped out more than 70,000 masks.
“I would love to see something like that come out of the East Ohio Conference,” Smith said.
Buchanan says the face mask ministry wouldn’t be possible without God.
“I think about the people that God used in the Bible. They weren’t smart, they were average people, like we are. I’m so glad God is using me.”
If you have a story of how your congregation is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to your community in creative ways, please e-mail EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Communications team would like to share your story.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.