Sacred quilts help continue conversations around race at Synod
Please. I can’t breathe.
The final words of George Floyd were held in remembrance this week during the United Church of Christ’s General Synod 34 through a series of twelve quilts. The quilts were displayed in the halls of the Indiana Convention Center during Synod.
Originating at the United Church of Jaffrey, N.H., and created by parishioners from nine New Hampshire churches, the fabric artwork forms a narrative of Floyd’s last moments that afternoon in Minneapolis, with the hope that they further conversations about how anti-Black violence impacts communities.
Helping to lead what is now the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry is the Rev. Mark Koyama, pastor of the Jaffrey congregation.
“We take this set to churches, schools, galleries, libraries, places that request us to exhibit,” he said.
The display is accompanied by a 17-minute film documenting the project, the meaning of the quilts and the process to tell the George Floyd narrative in this art form.
It is the art of quilting that gives power to this project, Koyama says. A familiar tradition in many cultures, quilts are often made by several individuals using fabric to tell stories.
In addition to Floyd, other familiar faces can be seen on the quilts including Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The display with the film, Koyama said, set up “a sacred conversation around race.”
Preparing for the future
Participating with Koyama at Synod was Harriet Ward, chair of the New Hampshire Conference’s anti-racism ministry, who also created two of the quilts. She reflected on Floyd’s final words — words that she noted were “things you get punished for saying.”
“Those are the words I wanted to say,” she said.
Ward and fellow quilter Kathy Blair of the United Church of Christ in Keene, N.H., also created a special quilt that was presented during this Synod to the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson during the recognition of her election as UCC General Minister and President.
When Ward, Blair and Koyama displayed the quilts in March for a meeting of the UCC Board and the Council of Conference Ministers, they had each participant choose a quilting square for use on a new quilt. She recalled that Thompson chose a square featuring a Sankofa bird, an Akan art symbol signifying the value of reflecting on the past to prepare for the future.
Thompson’s square was placed in the center of the quilt, surrounded by those chosen by board members and conference ministers in what Ward referred to a “form of blessing.”
‘They were speaking to me’
As the Sacred Ally Quilts Ministry travels the country, Koyama shares what is learned in the process of creating quilts.
“This is an incredible tool,” he said. “This model in confronting racism has tremendous potential.”
Since their creation, the display has traveled to several regions of the United States. Following Synod, the quilts travel to Chicago where they will be on display at Trinity Church for several weeks and then again at the Parliament of World’s Religion in August.
In between, though, the quilts will be displayed again in Indiana, thanks to the Rev. Dena Holland Neal.
Neal, from Peace UCC in Merrillville, Ind., was helping with the quilt exhibit as part of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference’s Synod volunteer program. She said she cried the first time she saw the quilts.
“I had a feeling the quilts were speaking to me,” she said.
For more information on the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry, visit saqm.org.
Tim Kershner is a General Synod newsroom volunteer from Campton, N.H., in the New Hampshire Conference.
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