Aging Well: Tiny church, huge heart


5_2014-Poetry UMC Women's Fellowship group sewing May 2014Step into the tiny Poetry United Methodist Church in rural northeast Texas on the first Wednesday of each month and at first glance you may think you’ve stumbled into Santa’s workshop. Sewing machines are humming. Joyful workers are chatting and laughing as they measure and cut, stuff and layer, pin and iron. But there are no wooden trains or curly-hair dolls in sight. Instead the thirty women gathered in a back room are making personal care items to give away to children and adults in need, including chemo hats, lap quilts, prayer shawls, stuffed animals, caddy bags for walkers and wheelchairs, and rehab therapy pillows.

If the North Pole has Santa, then Poetry UMC Women’s Fellowship group has 85 year-old Esta Basye who started the outreach program when she and her husband first moved to the countryside from their home in a Dallas suburb. “Once I discovered that there was no organized local mission effort in this little church, I decided to pitch my idea to the minister. Fourteen years later, we have given away over 30,000 handmade items of love and comfort.”

Of the group’s thirty or so participants, ten are members of the Poetry UMC congregation which averages about thirty-five persons for Sunday worship. The other twenty women come from around the larger Dallas area just to share in the fellowship and joy of sewing and serving. Most have learned about the outreach program by word-of-mouth and several of the women drive for over an hour to get to the historic, clapboard church. When mid-afternoon rolls around, their labor does not stop. They pack up projects to work on at home until they meet again.

The women agree that much of the ministry’s success is due to Esta’s vision and organizational skill. On the Sunday before the women arrive midweek, the men of the church help set up the tables under Esta’s supervision. With a keen eye on their meager funding, she keeps the large closet stocked with yards of colorful, bargain-hunted fabric, all neatly stored on shelves alongside other supplies and completed projects. Esta is the group’s primary communicator and also serves as a mentor for younger women who want to benefit from her storehouse of knowledge. But the actual ideas about what items to make often come from the agencies they are serving, including hospices, state and Veterans hospitals, eldercare communities and children’s advocacy centers.

At the request of one hospice nurse, the women began making special catheter bags to create a more dignified environment for patients and visitors. A staff member of a dementia care community suggested that the group make one-of-a-kind Alzheimer’s pads, also known as fidget blankets, to occupy and calm agitated dementia patients. Each lap pad has an assortment of zippers, cords, rick-rack, pockets and buttons to create helpful, tactile experiences for the person living with dementia. For two area Veterans hospitals, the women stitch patriotic pillowcases in red, white and blue. Most recently, an organization asked for laundry bags with draw strings which will be completed once they can afford to purchase the yards and yards of cording.
It is clear that the women take their role of good stewardship very seriously, stretching their slender budget as far as possible while helping as many people as they can. Their efforts also help maintain the aging church building. When new carpet was desperately needed in the sanctuary, the Women’s Fellowship group presented the church with a check for $2,000, the amount they made from raffling their annual Christmas quilt.

United States Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have recognized the group with the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award for having over one thousand hours of service in a single year. But to the women, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the smiles of those who receive the benefits of their labor.

The Poetry Women’s Fellowship is living proof that an aging congregation can still be vibrant if they focus of what they can do for others. Rev. Kathryn Curbo, the pastor of Poetry UMC, agrees. “These women reach 100 times their membership. If you were to multiply that over their many years of service, it has exponential potential!”

If you would like to send a love offering to help the Women’s Fellowship group fund their outreach, you may send a donation to Poetry UMC, PO Box 64, Terrell, TX 75160. Please write Women’s Fellowship in the memo line.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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