I am a member at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  In 2008, we began to welcome refugees from Burma into our congregation, many of whom spoke little or no English.  Today, we serve together, side-by-side, learning from and teaching each other.  On any given Sunday, some parts of the service – the Scripture reading, the morning prayer, or one of the anthems is in one of the Burmese languages represented in our church family.  Everyone leads worship in what we call their “heart language.”

To help our ESL members engage more fully in worship, we also have a theme and a corresponding liturgical installation in our sanctuary for each season of the church year. This fall, our theme has been “Stitched Together.”  Each week, the youth have draped the communion table with a quilt belonging to a church member. In the bulletin, the quilter or owner contributes the story of the quilt, or lessons learned from making the piece.

This Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, my newest quilt project – still a work in progress – will grace the communion table.  I have been working on this quilt since late July. Coming home and sewing, even for just a few minutes, has been good therapy, because this has been a challenging season for me vocationally.

Here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned or been reminded of as I’ve worked on this challenging project:

  1. Big new projects often look overwhelming.  This kit came with 27 different fabrics, countless pages of pattern pieces, and a 35-page instruction booklet. The first time I looked through the kit, I was afraid I couldn’t do it. However, I soon came to learn that if I trusted the process and tackled each step one at a time, beauty began to emerge.
  2. Success is motivating.  As each section “worked,” I got more motivated to continue.  Some days I couldn’t wait to get home to begin a new section, and soon I would have another section pieced together.
  3. Expect some failure.  Some days it seemed like I spent more time taking pieces apart than putting them together.  Sometimes I would have to do a section 3 times before I got it right.  I’ve been reminded of the value of patience and perseverance at several points along the way.
  4. Sometimes absolute accuracy is a must, and sometimes you can take creative license, but knowing when each is needed is critical to the success of the project. The only way a quilt this complex works is if each piece is precisely pieced. However, during the quilting phase, I could relax a bit and do some free-form work. So it is in our ministry settings.  Sometimes we must tend to details with care and intentionality, and other times we feel the joy of going with the flow and seeing what emerges – but discerning which time is which is critical.
  5. Repetitious tasks can free our minds to do higher level thinking.  Like knitting, which I also enjoy, this quilt required that I repeat a similar action over and over again. After I had mastered a specific step, I realized that I could process a challenge or problem as I worked with my hands.  What began as a leisure time activity and a creative outlet quickly evolved into an important time to engage in deeper, intentional reflection.  I was reminded of how important it is to regularly gift ourselves with these opportunities.
  6. The final product will often be a mixed blessing.  When I finish this quilt, I will hang it on a prominent wall in our home where I will see it nearly every day.  Every time I see it, I will enjoy the vibrant colors, be reminded of the new skills I gained, and feel a sense of accomplishment for completing a complex and challenging project. However, I imagine that this piece will also always remind me of the difficult time it helped me work through, and I’ve decided that this is a good thing too.  Hopefully, it will remind me that prayer, and theological reflection, and perseverance have helped me come out stronger on the other side. Hopefully, when I reflect on this time, I will see how attention to detail and going with the flow worked together to bring beauty out of the innumerable pieces that didn’t feel like they would ever come together. And finally, I hope it will remind me of the people that I became closely stitched together with along the way.
Tracy Hartman
Tracy was a member of the first class of M. Div. students at BTSR and won the Miller Award for Academic Achievement upon her graduation in 1995. Her graduate work at Union included ground-breaking research into the relationship between parish setting and preaching style for women pastors. Dr. Hartman teaches preaching and directs the seminary’s Supervised Ministry and Doctor of Ministry programs. She is the author of Letting the Other Speak: Proclaiming the Stories of Biblical Women and co-author of New Proclamation Commentary. Dr. Hartman is active in Baptist life and has served as staff member and interim pastor to several Virginia churches. She enjoys preaching throughout the region. She is a coach for CHC.