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On Being Church - a blog

Written by Martie Leming

A QUILT is defined as a sandwich of three layers of fabric, the backing fabric, the fiber batting in the middle, and the top fabric all held together with some stitching.  That's it.  It may be as simple as two pieces of muslin and some cotton fluff stitched together by candlelight with a running stitch of handmade thread all in an effort to keep the family warm. Or a quilt can be a magnificent work of art expressing many complex thoughts and emotions.  That is what we see in the Sacred Threads exhibit now showing in our Voice of the Spirit gallery and scattered around the church.   

One of the quilts that has drawn me in is named St Gabriel, a quilt made by Judy Momenzadeh, to remember the oldest wooden church building on the Mississippi River and the oldest continuing church community in the Mississippi Valley.

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By Petie Szabo

When I attended the Arts Ministry’s “Sacred Threads” exhibit on January 13th, I was immediately attracted to the quilt made by Gerrie Lynne Thompson of Happy Valley, Oregon, titled “Forget Me Not.” It is nearly life size and shows a frontal, three-quarter view of a statuesque, almost Amazonian woman, who appears to be in the process of disintegrating. The quilt is made from fabric in shades of grey and blue. The stitching and the flow of her tresses make her appear to be windblown, with movement in the quilt from left to right. While her right side cannot be seen, the figure appears to be solid.

But as I looked toward the right-hand side of the quilt, pieces of her torso and especially her left arm seemed to be disjointed and in the process of decay or disorganization. The emotions aroused in me by this quilt are quite familiar. Having passed three score years and ten, I am able to relate to the aging process that this art work represents; the feeling that my body is falling apart and that I am no longer able to do physical activities that were easy when I was young, or even a few years ago. Gray and thinning hair, wrinkles, medical issues that require intervention, insomnia, forgetfulness, periodic anxiety and fear of loss of mental acuity all are part of my life now.

Another way of looking at this quilt, especially given the title, “Forget Me Not”, is that our memories of persons we loved and of our previous, youthful selves, tend to fade with time. While some aspects of the person/self we remember may remain more concrete, such as the face in the quilt, other memories may be more ephemeral and dissipate. As the background of the quilt fades from dark to light gray on the right, the left arm and hand become lighter in tone and begin to disappear into the background.

Ms. Thompson, in her posted notes and in those in her audio tour, emphasizes the loss of societal value experienced by older persons. She states that her intent was to represent herself as a person who is resisting that loss in status and refuses to fade away. I believe this is why she chose to include her work in the “Inspiration” section of the exhibition.

A comforting verse from the Old Testament that is relevant to the theme of aging is the promise made by God in Isaiah 46:4, “Even to your old age I will be the same. And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you. And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”

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On the day the Arts Ministry team carefully unwrapped and sorted the quilts of the “Sacred Threads” traveling exhibit, I was captured by their stunning beauty and techniques that were far beyond simple stitching. It was only at the opening the following Saturday that I began to listen to each artist as they connected their journey and purpose in making their art.

Joyce Watkins King later asked me to write about one of the quilts. This was a difficult choice since all of them reflected beauty, exceptional technical skill and meaningful stories; however, I soon discovered one that spoke directly to me.

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How very good & pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordains his blessing, life evermore. –Psalm 133

Dear members and friends of West Raleigh Presbyterian Church,

Psalm 133 framed the 2018 Commitment (Pledging Season), Building the Beloved Community. It is a Song of Ascent that was probably sung as God’s people ascended to the temple in Jerusalem for worship. It is a psalm about both people and place. Notice the psalmist uses two images to describe God’s blessing – the image of Aaron’s anointing and of dew landing on the tallest mountain in sight – a person and a place, people living in place and time, inextricably bound, receiving God’s blessing of life.

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I have eaten at Table Raleigh (formerly known as A Place at the Table) three times this week! I love it, and I know you will too. I have had the avocado toast, yogurt bowl and sun dried tomato quiche with goat cheese. My eleven year old daughter raves about the waffles, served with whipped cream, butter and syrup – a trinity of abundance! You can also get a biscuit with sausage gravy for breakfast or a pulled pork panini for lunch. Table Raleigh started with an epiphany. Then Presbyterian Campus Ministry student, Maggie Kane (now Executive Director of A Place at the Table), had a vision of a restaurant where all God’s people could eat and enjoy good, fresh food together – regardless of their ability to pay. Maggie’s vision extended beyond providing food to the millions of food insecure Americans. Her vision was to create, nurture and sustain community around something that is necessary for us all – food. It has taken years for Maggie’s epiphany to grow into a full service pay-as-you-can café located at 300 W. Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh. But last week it finally did – Table Raleigh opened from 7am-2pm, Monday – Saturday.

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Last spring I was thumbing through one of my professional magazines, Surface Design, when I noticed a small ad in the back for a national art quilt exhibition, Sacred Threads. The word sacred jumped off the page at me, because it is rare to see an exhibition that includes anything hinting of spiritual content. While you and I might find that surprising, because we know that creating often comes from a spiritual place, it is an anomaly in the art world. Most nonprofit galleries cannot accept government or grant funds if they have any kind of religious connection and most private, for-profit galleries also shy away from spiritual content because it is less commercial and can be controversial. When we first formed the arts ministry here at West Raleigh five years ago, among the reasons that we cited was “to offer our own members and other artists in the area the opportunity to exhibit artworks of a spiritual nature.”

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