Women clergy from across the West Ohio Conference are finding unexpected packages in the mail. Once opened, the packages reveal a clergy stole created especially for the recipient, stitched together by the thread and prayers of a person who understands the complexity of being a woman in ministry.
The seamstress is the Rev. Dr. Rebeka Maples, a retired clergywoman who sprang into action at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspired by her daughter, Laura, a clothing designer in Los Angeles, Maples quickly started sewing masks and donating them. She began praying for the front-line workers who would receive the masks. Then she thought of another group of people who serve on a different kind of front line: clergywomen, especially those who face additional burdens of discrimination and negativity. It wasn’t long before sewing masks evolved into making clergy stoles.
“I appreciate more the tasks of women pastors who are on the front lines and remember my own feelings of isolation and exhaustion when I was serving the church,” Maples said. “The challenges of pastoring during a pandemic have exacerbated these feelings.”
“Pastors need encouraged. They need to be reminded to care for self, for prayer, for remembering their call,” she said.
As she added names to her list of clergywomen she planned to gift with a stole, Maples moved her sewing machine into her prayer room. “Creating the stoles and masks became a reminder of the One who has stitched us all together,” she said.
Maples has always enjoyed discovering different ways of praying for herself and to encourage students in The Course of Study School of Ohio where she serves as director of spiritual formation. Both the process of selecting fabric and designs and the actual sewing provided focus for Maples. She said it emptied her of other concerns. Her prayers broadened and became less about her and more about others. This brought her closer to God, she added.
To date, Maples has sewed and sent 105 stoles and masks to clergy. Her intention is to continue creating stoles until all 164 clergywomen in the West Ohio Conference have received her specially created stoles and masks.
“What a precious gift it was to receive the beautiful stole and matching mask from Rebeka,” said Rev. Linda Middelberg. “It came at a time that I needed to be reminded that we are not in ministry alone.”
Maples believes all Christians are called to do something to love neighbor and build beloved community. “When we offer kindness,” she said, “we are touching others and connecting to God, making the world a better place. No act of kindness is too small or trivial.”
By Kay Panovec, Director of Communications, West Ohio Conference