Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Stitches of love April 6, 2011

Handmade quilts drape across pews at St. John's United Church of Christ.

INSIDE THE LIMESTONE CHURCH, patchwork quilts drape across the backs of pews, spilling onto cushy red seat cushions.

Only hours earlier during the Sunday morning church service, worshippers settled onto the quilts handmade by St. John’s United Church of Christ members.

On a Saturday in February, members of the Women’s Guild, and a few husbands, gathered at this country church in Wheeling Township in southeastern Rice County to stuff the quilts with batting, add backings and tie together the layers with snippets of yarn.


St. John's old stone church has been in continuous use for more than 150 years. German settlers founded the congregation in 1856.

This year, according to church member and quilter Kim Keller, the quilters made 13 baby quilts and 13 big quilts.

The handmade blankets will go to graduating high school seniors—two at St. John’s this spring—and to missions, mostly local.


One of the many handmade quilts that will be given away.

As I perused the quilts, I considered the devotion of those who piece together the swatches of fabric, tie together the layers and knot the strands of yarn. These quilts represent gifts that touch the recipients physically, but, more importantly, emotionally and perhaps spiritually.

Stroke the fabric and you can almost feel the love stitched into each quilt.

That these blankets are then displayed for worshippers to see, and sit upon, adds another dimension to the project. As I photographed the quilts, as the sun streamed through the church’s restored stained glass windows, I thought of the blessings received by both the givers and the receivers. Joy that comes in selfless giving. Joy that comes in knowing someone cares enough about you and your needs to stitch a quilt.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

The stained glass windows at St. John's were restored between 2004 - 2006 at a cost of more than $30,000.


A view from the St. John's balcony of the church interior and the quilts.

TEN MILES AWAY in Faribault, about a dozen women at my church, Trinity Lutheran, meet every Wednesday morning from September through May to finish quilts that are donated to those in need. Seamstresses sew the quilt tops at home and then bring them, along with the backings, to church where the Trinity Quilters add the batting and then tie together the layers with yarn.

For 60-plus years now, the women of Trinity have been stitching quilts. “It’s a mission project,”  says long-time quilter Betty Gudknecht. “I want to help other people. You want to do things for the Lord because you want to do it (not because you’re paid).”

With that spirit of giving and serving, the Trinity quilters make about 200 quilts annually. They donate them to places like Minnesota Teen Challenge, the Orphan Grain Train, the Red Cross, Burdens to Blessings, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots, and to others in need. Trinity’s graduating high school seniors also receive quilts.

This week the Trinity Quilters are auctioning off three quilts in a silent auction that ends mid-morning on Sunday, April 10. They need the auction money to purchase batting for their 60 x 80-inch quilts. A single roll of recently-purchased cotton batting, which will make 16 quilts, cost $90, and that was at 50 percent off.

In the past, the quilters have gotten creative, using old blankets, mattress pads and even the outsides of electric blankets, as “batting.” They still plan to use those resources, but would also like to use the softer, purchased cotton batting.

While the quilt-makers sometimes buy fabric, most often it is donated.

If you’re interested in bidding on one of the quilts at Trinity Lutheran Church—and I’m sorry, I don’t have photos of the quilts—get your bids in this week.

Cash donations are also being accepted to help the quilters purchase batting.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


The steeple of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling