History of Church of the Brethren Women's Work - 1876 - 1886
As early as the 1870's, women of the Church of the Brethren were "not only alert and interested in letting their voices be heard" on matters of religious and secular education, but were looking for ways to respond to the "missionary appeal." The conversion of Christian Hope, his finding a church home in Northern Illinois and later going back to Denmark (in 1876) as an ordained Brethren minister to lay the foundation of a church, was the beginning of missions for the Church of the Brethren. The Danish mission, sponsored by Northern Illinois, was given support by the women of the church as evidenced by letters in 1876 and 1878 from Ohio and Pennsylvania which listed the names of women who contributed from the "results of their labor," mainly sewing earnings.
In 1886 it was urged that a sisters' mission band be organized in every congregation. Although discouraged by the 1886 Annual Conference that asked that women not have a separate organization for the support of missions, but "to be united," it did not end the hopeful effort on the part of the sisters and later in 1886 the Messenger editor stated that "We feel they (the sisters) deserve the sympathy and encouragement of the church. That their hands may be strengthened and their hearts made strong in the good work. Let the ministry of the women be enlarged."
One of the first two groups of organized women called themselves A Sisters' Mission Band and its object was "to develop the missionary spirit of its members and to aid in both home and foreign missions." At the first meeting, September 18, 1885, it was agreed that "each women pay a definite sum each week for the advancement of the mission work, meetings were to be held monthly where the business attended to was the needs and wants of the poor as brought to our notice."
Thus Women's Work began to give women a ministry and an opportunity to support missionary work. The women's efforts grew and whether as a Mission Band or Aid Society have continued faithful to their ideals.
-from Founding of Women's Work
Reprinted from The Gospel Messenger
Ladies' Aid Society - Women's Work - Women's Fellowship - Volunteer Fellowship
Elkhart City Church of the Brethren - 1917-2001
The first minutes we have of the Sisters' Aid Society of the Elkhart City Church of the Brethren dated December 18, 1917, indicate that they met "for an all-day meeting at the church - 12 being present." The time was spent in quilting. The treasury showed $2.10 received for a quilt, purchased one spool of thread for 5¢, a "paper of quilting needles - 5¢. Balance - $5.20.
In 1918 it was indicated they were "sewing for the Red Cross" (perhaps for victims of World War I?)." The name of the group was sometimes referred to as Ladies Aid Society; 10-12 attended the weekly meetings at the church.
1919 - The Ladies Aid Society still met weekly at the church, continuing their "charity work," sometimes making 15-20 garments in one day for the Red Cross and women of the church.
1/30/1920 - "Time was spent knotting a comforter - five present." Weekly meetings were held at the church - quilting and knotting comforters.
11/16/1921 - Brother Swihart (the minister) gave devotions - 34 present - 12 comforters knotted. Some men attended the carry-in.
1923 - The Sisters/Ladies Aid Society held 36 meetings during the year; Average attendance 8-1/2 - five all-day meetings. In 1925 the meetings were spent in quilting, making prayer coverings, and comforter knotting.
In the early 1930's the Sewing Circle met in homes. As the group increased, they divided into smaller groups according to the section of town they lived in and each group had their own leader. Projects included embroidering pillow cases, making flour sacks into dish towels and embroidering them, making pillows; these items were then sold. Some dish towels were given to the church. Also, 100 dozen Amish cookies were made at a time and these were also sold. A small white baby quilt and bonnet to go with it were made and given to each mother that had a baby.
In 1936 the Circles were still meeting in homes, twice a month. Projects included making pillow slips, dish towels, luncheon cloths, basket liners, selling vanilla, mincemeat, jello, greeting cards and baking cookies along with knotting comforters.
In 1938 the Circles started meeting some at the church doing quilting. In 1949 the Circles were still meeting in the homes, but in October 1950, all Circles combined and the Women's Work name was changed to Women's Fellowship by 1959.
In 1950, Women's Fellowship started meeting in the new church fellowship hall at Wolf and Benham. Projects added then were painting of pillow cases and dish towels; quilting; comforter knotting; relief sewing and bandage rolling.
In 1985 the Women's Fellowship was meeting the first and third Thursday of each month from September to June with about 25-30 present. Projects included preparing and delivering a meal for 20 Lifeline boys once a month; quilting for the CROP auction; knotting comforters and lap robes for the needy and for the CROP Auction; bandage rolling; postage stamp project which brings in money for relief; making silk flower arrangements for shut-ins; putting together Health and Sewing Kits for relief. A carry-in meal was held at noon with the retired men attending. For the CROP Auction in May, 1985, one quilt, 10 comforters, six bouquets of silk flowers, several baby blankets, two afghans were made and donated by our Women's Fellowship.
1989 - Due to
the fact that in one generation - from the 60's to the 80's - women
working outside the home increased from 30% to 80%, the Women's
Fellowship group was hard hit. That, and the fact that many of the
older women had passed away or had moved into retirement homes or
suffered from ill health, it became apparent that a change needed
to be made. Therefore, as of September 1989, there was no longer
an organized Women's Fellowship, but instead the work of quilting,
comforter making and kit assembling for Church
World Service, stamp processing, bandage rolling and silk flower
arranging was carried on by a group known as the Volunteer Fellowship
which met monthly at the church.
2000 - As of
the end of the year 2000, the Volunteer Fellowship is still meeting
monthly with an attendance of around 10 women. Projects the past
year have included making 150 child-size blankets for the Elkhart
Child Development Center, packing approximately 170 School
and Health Kits for Church World Service. In the past five years,
286 small comforters were made and given to the needy in the community,
331 School Kits and 1,535 Health Kits have been assembled and given
to Church World Service for distribution around the world.
that received comforters - large and small - made by the women of
the Elkhart City Church of the Brethren over the past 20 or so years
were: Abused Women's Shelter; Elkhart County Babies Coalition; Elkhart
High School's unwed mothers' class; burned out and needy families
in the community; Faith Mission; Red Cross; CROP Auction; Hoosier
Girls' Emergency Center; Boys' Emergency Center; Elkhart
General Hospital; Bethany Preschool; Church
Community Services; Elkhart Child Development Center (app. 150
blankets); Little Lambs Day Care Center. Baby comforters were also
given to each newborn in the congregation and lap robes were made
and given to several area nursing homes and individuals.
January 2001 - We feel blessed that we, the women of the Elkhart City Church of the Brethren, have been able to be faithful in carrying on the ideals of the first women's organizations some 115 years ago as we meet the "needs of the poor as they are brought to our attention."
Erma Miller, former Coordinator
Volunteer Fellowship Page
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