Building connections in Idaho
Mennonite and Latter-day Saint women share concern for people in need of 'comfort'ers
The Idaho women from Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints connected over shared interests as they knotted comforters for people in need last October.
Although most women from the two groups had not met each other before, they discovered that they shared an appreciation for beautiful fabric, enjoyed lively conversation and had passion for helping refugees.
“I think God needs all of his children to contribute, no matter what faith we’re from,” said Trina Tadje, president of the Eagle Stake Relief Society. (A stake is a grouping of congregations in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
The roots of this new collaboration of faith groups began at a book club that Beth Landis, a West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) board member, attends with women from the Latter-day Saints, including Marlene Hansen.
When Hansen learned that Landis was part of a sewing group, the Knotty Ladies, she asked to visit. The Knotty Ladies are from Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise and had been meeting together weekly for the last eight years.
During Hansen’s visit, she learned that the group makes comforters for MCC to send to people around the world who are uprooted from their homes due to conflict, fire, hurricanes, earthquakes or floods. Recipients use the colorful, handmade blankets as bed covers, room dividers and wraps.
As Hansen helped knot together the layers of a comforter – the pieced top, batting and bottom layers – an idea for a partnership emerged. Women from the Relief Society and the Knotty Ladies could create comforters for MCC together.
“I find it very rewarding to tie quilts and be able to visit with other women at the same time,” Hansen said. “It is good to work with people outside of your normal group,” she added.
Hansen brought the idea to Tadje, who contacted Landis and was instantly drawn to her friendliness.
“I was just so grateful for her warmth and her willingness for us to participate in the great work that they’re engaged in,” Tadje said. They began to draw up plans for a comforter bash, where volunteers tie multiple comforters simultaneously.
Landis contacted her cousin, Carolyn Shank, from Harrisonburg, Virginia, who agreed to donate pieced comforter tops she had already made for MCC. Friends from Landis’ church, who were visiting Harrisonburg, brought the tops back to Idaho.
On Oct. 12, the comforter bash took place. About 85 women from the Relief Society and 13 Mennonite women and children gathered at a Latter-day Saints’ gymnasium in Eagle.
Tadje used an MCC calendar to display photos and examples of service around the world on a bulletin board. Landis shared a short devotional that explained MCC’s mission and highlighted how refugees and displaced people use the comforters.
She said each comforter is meant to convey a message of hope and caring as well as physical comfort. “It’s a lot more than warmth and a blanket,” Landis said.
Most participants had never worked on comforters before.
“It didn’t matter how fast or good you were,” Landis said, “you just tied square knots.” As each comforter was completed – 21 in all – someone rang a large school bell and placed another tally mark on a chalkboard to a roomful of cheers.
The vibrant comforters, each about 60 x 80 inches, were displayed around the gymnasium for everyone to appreciate. “They’re just stunning,” Landis said.
Landis was pleased with the fun everyone had. Events like the comforter bash provide meaning, purpose and belonging to participants – what everyone is longing for, she said. “This was joy at its best.”
The comforter bash also was a “chance to engage,” Landis added. Women from both groups asked questions and discovered how they are alike and different. They learned each other’s beliefs and faith origins.
Tadje said the women found out how much they had in common and that conversations grew naturally in the friendly, non-threatening atmosphere.
“I think there was a lot of joy in the creation,” she said, “and there is so much value in making a new friend.”
Because of Tadje’s connection with the Idaho Mennonites, she has been able to link her son and his companion, who are serving in the Netherlands, with a comforter bash that Mennonites held in the city of Zwolle in January.
Landis said many women asked for the comforter bash to become a regular occurrence. “It was impactful individually and collectively in ways we weren’t counting on.”
After the bash, the women displayed the comforters at one congregation. A group of women prayed for the people who would receive the comforters, Tadje said, “that they know how much we care about them across the oceans.”
Although organizers set up the bash to be a come and go event, Landis said many of the women wished they had spent even more time there. “They said, ‘Next year, I’m going to plan to be there all day.’”