By Meredith Flynn
“Each one of us has got some adopted grandchildren.” In a Sunday school classroom at Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Alberta Siverly explains why she and her sisters meet here every week. Along with their friend Karen Wallace, the sisters are assembled to work on quilts for an annual auction held by Illinois’ Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS).
Today’s work isn’t focused on quilts for this year’s auction—the 20 bed-sized blankets the small group creates every year are finished, ready for pick-up and transport to BCHFS’s Carmi campus. Alberta says they like to work ahead. The sewing they do these Wednesday mornings at the church and on their own time at home is for next year’s quilts, and for the baby blankets and prayer shawls they create when they hear of a need.
Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, adopted or not, are the subject of much conversation around the table as the sisters and Wallace share stories and back-to-school photos. Dona Sanders, the youngest sister, has a granddaughter who was adopted through the Children’s Home as an infant. She’s now a junior in high school.
The Marshall quilts have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BCHFS since 2005, when the group created their first one for the auction held during the agency’s annual fall festival. Now in its twentieth year, the festival is BCHFS’s single-largest fundraiser, said Executive Director Denny Hydrick.
This year’s fall festival is Sept. 21 in Carmi.
The Marshall quilters and other partners across the state enable the ministry of BCHFS, Hydrick said. The agency, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, receives no state or federal funding and is supported by donor individuals and churches.
“Each church probably has its own story,” Hydrick said, “but from my perspective, partnerships are so intertwined with the ministry, you just can’t exist without them.”
All in the family
Organizers estimate this year’s auction will have between 60 and 80 quilts, with at least a quarter of those created by Loving Hands, the ministry that started 25 years ago out of Marshall’s “old lady class,” as Siverly calls it.
“Wait a minute, don’t put that in there,” Wallace says. “Just put ‘mature class.’”
“This is the last class you go to before you get promoted,” says Shirley Shumaker, another sister. Promoted, as in heaven. As they work, the quilters speak often of Carolyn Siverly, Alberta’s sister-in-law who passed away in May. And Martha Garner, their oldest sister, who will turn 90 in October. After a recent fall, she’s currently in a nursing facility.
Draped over a chair next to their work table is the last quilt Carolyn worked on. “I had to finish it for her,” Alberta says. The sisters say Carolyn was born with a talent for colors and fabrics. “She could throw in an odd block that you wouldn’t think would even belong in that quilt, but it looked right,” Wallace said. She’s the group’s newest recruit, but she lived down the street from the sisters when they were young.
As Wallace sews and the sisters look over patterns and swatches, they teach a crash course in quilting. The quilt patterned with interlocking circles is “Double Wedding.” Another with little girls in profile is “Holly Hobby,” also known as “Sunbonnet Sue.”
Sunshine on the front porch.
Blocks, batting, backing.
“We love to talk quilts,” Siverly says. “My husband, before he passed away, he said, ‘Alberta, you’re going to turn into a quilt.’”
The sisters and Wallace hold several different conversations across the table, often finishing each other’s sentences. “Eat, sleep, and drink quilts,” one says. Across the room: “And then repeat.”
Loving Hands started when a woman at the Marshall church wanted to be more involved in missions. She had a garage built at her home so the group could meet there; they rotated from one member’s home to another before eventually moving their weekly meeting to the church. They gather Wednesday mornings to get ideas and to plan future projects, but the majority of the sewing they do at home.
Pastor Paul Cooper steps into the classroom to greet the quilters, recalling a lunch he shared with the group early in his tenure as pastor. He had driven them to Carmi to drop off their auction quilts and suggested a Mexican restaurant on the way back. Not accustomed to the cuisine, every one of the quilters ordered the same entrée—a chicken chimichanga.
“We got him young,” Siverly says affectionately of their pastor. “We trained him the way we wanted him to go, with God’s help.”
“He’s doing really well too,” adds another quilter.
The Loving Hands ladies talk about the need to recruit new blood for the group. A fellow church member built them a large quilt stand positioned just outside the sanctuary. They swap out the featured quilt every few weeks—the one currently on display has a woodland theme, with animals hidden throughout.
As they stand in the foyer examining the quilt, the Loving Hands greet the few people here on Wednesday morning with hugs and conversation. Some are actual family, others just feel like they are.
“Everybody down here’s related to everybody else.”
Two hours south of Marshall, Susan Shilling works on a quilt with a group of brand-new sewers. Shilling, who has helped lead the quilt auction for BCHFS for 10 years or more, is teaching the ins and outs of quilting to junior highers at her church, First Baptist in Grayville.
“They’re real beginners,” Shilling said. “Two of the girls had never touched a sewing machine.” She plans to do the actual quilting for their creation, but she’s been careful to let them sew together the pieces of the quilt top. “If they have a boo-boo, they have to pick it out themselves and fix it. I want to be able to say the girls made the quilt.”
Shilling marvels at what the Marshall group accomplishes each year. “I just can’t imagine how they get all those quilts made.” When she drove to Marshall to pick up this year’s quilts, she saw the file cabinet in the Sunday school classroom, already full of projects for next year’s auction.
The quilts sold this year will benefit the four main ministries of BCHFS: residential care at the Children’s Home in Carmi; care for new and expecting mothers at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon; adoption services; and counseling offered at Pathways centers around the state.
In addition to those initiatives, Hydrick says BCHFS is also pursuing a new avenue of ministry: a crisis pregnancy clinic. The new opportunity is in response to Illinois’ new abortion laws, which repealed several longstanding restrictions on the practice. The clinic would provide pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, as well as counseling for women as they make decisions.
“In our one hundred years of history, the ministry has always adapted to meet more contemporary needs,” Hydrick says. It’s been 100 years since the first sibling group of four came to live at the Carmi campus. A century of ministry has been made possible by the benevolence of donors and giving churches, he says.
In Marshall, the Loving Hands quilters are considering a future trip to Illinois Amish country to look at material and get ideas for upcoming projects. Youngest sister Dona will likely drive, because she has a van. They’ll continue to meet on Wednesdays, working on quilts for people in need, now and in the future.
“Eat, sleep, and drink quilts.”
“And then repeat.”
Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.