Nancy Durden (Dec. 31, 1950 – June 5, 2015) left behind a legacy of heartfelt mission and love in action at Smoke Rise Baptist Church through her founding and nurturing of the Stitchers quilting ministry among us. Nancy told the story of how things got started on August 14, 2014 when the church formally blessed and dedicated the work of the ministry to the glory of God.
Nancy’s mother, Tommie Benefield was a quilter and Nancy took up the art too. As Nancy recalled, the idea for an SRBC quilting group started when she and a couple of friends were talking at a Wednesday night dinner about starting a mission to make quilts for sick children, hospice patients and others.
Tami Litton and I were excited about the possibilities, but held personal fear that the group might be just the two of us. Time went by and busy lives intruded. The desire was still there, but in limbo. That little voice on my shoulder kept pestering me that I should be about my Father’s business, so we talked again and agreed, “Let’s just do it!”
After talking with the church staff and publishing an invitation for others to join them in the Eater’s Digest, Nancy and her quilting friends discovered 10 to 12 other ladies who were interested in working with a quilting ministry in the church. When Nancy spoke about the work of the new team she would soon oversee, she was careful to call the ministry a “mission group.” Since its inception, SRBC Stitchers have recognized that sharing the gift of quilting was meant to be more than a hobby; God wanted to use their art as a “missionary response” to God’s calling on their lives. Nancy described how this new mission group found ways to respond to mission needs in the church and beyond.
Shortly after our group’s first meeting, I was approached by Kelly McClendon who said that the new Pastor (Dr. Chris George) had asked if the church had a group that might make blankets or quilts for baby dedications and a brother/sister quilt to be sent to a Ukrainian missionary for a child in an orphanage. We gave an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Nancy’s husband Paul helped to make space for the team around a pool table that he covered so the Stitchers could hold quarterly quilting sessions. The room was soon filled with donated cloth and the fellowship of friends quilting together on mission.
Doris Nelms recalled the early days of the Stitchers ministry when quilts were shared with hospice patients: “It was a work of love that Nancy took charge of and oversaw at every turn. Hospice was part of Stitchers in the early days when our hospice ministry would get half of the quilts the team made. The Stitchers ministry blossomed to include baby dedications and a Ukrainian missions branch too,” said Nelms.
It was a sad time for our church when Nancy passed away, and the loss of her leadership
was difficult for her friends and mission partners in the SRBC Stitchers. “Nancy organized everything! She really was the heart of Stitchers,” said Jan Sloan. In the wake of Nancy’s passing, The SRBC Stitchers called a meeting and agreed to organize regular meetings so that they could carry on the mission. “That’s when we changed the name of our mission group to ‘Nancy’s Heart Stitchers” said Alice Schutte, who also recalled a conversation between Nancy and another volunteer Stitcher.
One time a Stitcher volunteer asked Nancy if she could put a “star” on a quilt as a kind of symbol with a deeper meaning. Nancy was quick to respond, ‘No. We do hearts.’ And it wasn’t that Nancy objected to stars as such, it was simply the idea that if the mission was going to have a symbol, it should be a heart, because every blanket was stitched from the heart. And so it is fitting that we are called Nancy’s Heart Stitchers, because it really speaks to Nancy’s role in forming the mission group.
All the quilts produced and presented by Nancy’s Heart Stitchers have a heart on them somewhere. It is usually obvious, but it may also be hidden in the design. And every blanket continues to have the same label “This quilt was prayerfully made by members of the Nancy’s Heart Stitchers of Smoke Rise Baptist Church especially for you. This is a visible expression of God’s love through Jesus Christ.” This message and a Bible verse message is also included on every quilt that is shipped to the Ukraine.
Today the ministry of Nancy’s Heart Stitchers includes all its original recipients, but also extends to a variety of people facing difficult illnesses or life transitions in our church and beyond. At the formal dedication of the Stitchers ministry, Nancy shared words of blessing that followed each and every quilt made by the mission group. “Our prayer as we work is always, ‘Dear Lord, we don’t know who will receive these quilts, but you do. Please bless them and wrap them in your love and give them peace. Amen.’”
If you would like to learn to stitch or join Nancy’s Heart Stitchers on mission, we encourage you to contact Merrilee Brock in the church office. With thanksgiving and remembrance for Nancy’s missionary heart, may the Stitchers work of love thrive among us for years to come.