The Ministry of the Comfort Quilt

Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I was surrounded by beautiful quilts mostly made by Amish and Mennonites. My grandmother also quilted, and she made most of my bedspreads and comforters. She taught me the names of the different patterns, but I had never heard of a Comfort Quilt until I attended Lancaster Meeting.

Initially, I only heard about the Comfort Quilt in our sharing time at the close of meeting for worship. So, without seeing the elusive Comfort Quilt, I was somewhat confused as to what it was and what ministry it provided.

First, I thought the Comfort Quilt was some special blessing. A member of the Comfort and Assistance Committee would stand and give an update to the meeting about members, attenders, and their families and friends to hold in the Light. Then, she would add that she "gave the Comfort Quilt" to someone who was homebound, recuperating from surgery or an accident, etc. So it seemed to be something like an anointing.

This misconception was cleared one day when they announced the Comfort Quilt appeared to be "missing in action." It had been lent out to someone, but no one seemed to remember who the current recipient was. And, a few weeks later, new patches were available for members and at-tenders to design, as the meeting was to sew and quilt a new Comfort Quilt. So now, I knew, the Comfort Quilt was a single quilt made by the meeting as a whole, to take to people in their time of need.

Then, it happened—the unexpected. My car was totaled and I was in an ambulance en route to the hospital. By the time I was out of x-ray, my parents were there to hear the news. Along with my bruises from head to toe, I had broken my leg. After a couple of days in the hospital I would be discharged, so we began planning my discharge to their home.

As we made a list of people and organizations to be called, I kept asking my mother to call the meeting to request the Comfort Quilt. Mom just looked at me as if I were delirious and pacified me by assuring me that she would call. Mom must have called because the Comfort Quilt was on the hospital bed waiting for me at my parents’ home. What a relief to be home surrounded with my family! Surrounding myself in the Comfort Quilt just further added to my peace.

Little did I know how long and grueling my recovery would be. Often I was exhausted and too tired for visitors. The few visitors who did come not only heard of my accident and recovery, but of the Comfort Quilt from meeting.

Every evening my father would tuck me in bed. Initially, I had him put the Comfort Quilt on the bed upside down so that I could see the designs in each of the patches. As my recovery continued, I would ask him to turn the quilt around so I could feel different patches as I slept. When I grew able to spend more time out of bed, I kept the Comfort Quilt folded nicely at the bottom of the bed, with different patches showing every day. After I reached the point when I was out of bed all day, I threw it over the couch to show half the quilt at a time.

The true ministry of the Comfort Quilt came during the dark hours. In the middle of the night between pain pills, I would cuddle up in the Comfort Quilt and feel surrounded by the love of the meeting. Other times, when I was exhausted from therapy and pain, my hand would gently fall on the textures of a patch and I would imagine who in meeting would most likely have put this patch together—remembering the times of worship and fellowship we had shared together.

The Comfort Quilt was a kaleidoscope of theme, color, and texture with a unifying border. A patch was dedicated to signatures—autographs—written composites of unique individuals. A patch with a depiction of George Fox who could double as William Penn represented Quaker heritage and history. One patch had a button—such a simple invention, used to fasten cloth together—to fasten us together when we are apart. Another patch had lace—formal, decorative, and fanciful. Most of the quilt was cotton and linen, but one patch had swatches of velour or velveteen—comfy, cozy, warm, and fuzzy. What a beautiful piece of art—a quilt made of bits and pieces sewn together with love.

Last year, I returned to Lancaster Meeting for their House Blessing celebration that included an art show. When I walked into the entry, I was greeted by a quilt hanging on the wall. Although it did not remotely look like the Comfort Quilt that ministered to me all those many months, it was so familiar. One patch depicted the tradition of the mitten tree that the meeting donates at Christmas. One patch had lace. Another patch had swatches of different textured fabrics. All the patches were unified with a border. How amazing! Without being a duplicate of my Comfort Quilt, this quilt was just as beautiful, and it touched my heart. I was moved to tears and I cried from deep in my soul—tears that I did not know I still had in me left to cry. Just like my physical recovery, my soul still has wounds that I try to hide with each step I take.

The Comfort Quilt truly gives a special blessing of the meeting in a time of need. When someone is homebound and unable to tolerate visitors, the Comfort Quilt gives a connection to the meeting with loving support and all its blessings. Thanks to Lancaster Meeting for this special ministry. For those of the meeting who have participated in creating a Comfort Quilt and have not needed to receive it, I hope this article has shed light on what a blessing you have helped to create.
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©2003 Ruthanne Hackman