Before the sanctuary was finished, we were already worshiping in it. We were used to kneeling for communion on an unpadded surface in the old sanctuary, as the new construction was finishing, members of the DeEtte Circle talked to church members about communion - almost everyone who was physically able to kneel did, but preferred a cushion for their knees.
We asked the carpenter to cut 46 boards, 23 to decorate and 23 to pad and cover in the interim. The response from the congregation was overwhelming the first Sunday they were in place.
We researched Christian symbols and it didn’t take long to realize how many important biblical stories needed to be represented, and we would need more than one symbol on each kneeler. And although most biblical characters were men, we needed to include female characters.
In our small circle, nine women were willing to do the needlepoint. Unfortunately some didn’t know embroidery, but were willing to learn. We got two community members and 10 more St. John members to stitch.
This was a time-consuming project, but our enthusiasm was also large. We met each week at the church and did a lot of laughing, and enjoyed our fellowship time together. After a few of the designs were complete, and we were still helping the novice stitchers, our determination was elevated to a new height when our pastor John Forney ordered fabric that matched the new pew cushions, and we could stitch the symbols, cut them out and applique them to the fabric. That’s all it took to give us a more determined attitude. The pastor said it was an impossible task. Whenever we grew tired, and it seemed that we were slowing down, or our fingers were numb and sore, our pastor’s words rang out loud and clear.
We were puffed up like peacocks the Sunday that we placed the first 12 kneelers at the altar and listened to the comments from the congregation. We worked on the needlepoint not only at the church, but at home. Some canvases went on airplanes, boats and trains as our stitchers took vacations. Others were at little league games or high school sports. But more importantly, some helped to ease the pain of tragedies in our church family. Our determination grew stronger as each completed kneeler was placed at the altar.
Every member of the DeEtte Circle helped in some way: blocking, padding, securing, gluing and trimming. It took everyone involved to complete a very satisfying project. There are names on the back edge of each kneeler to indicate who did the handiwork. If there are two names, the first tells who completed the design and the second the background.
We estimated that it took over 100 hours and 27,000 stitches to complete just one kneeler. It took 3 years and nearly 3,000 hours, every kneeler was in place and dedicated on Feb. 3, 1985.
Needless to say our hands were never idle during those many months. Our homes were probably not as clean as they should have been, and meals probably weren’t as delicious as they usually were, but our friendships grew stronger, strangers became friends and the memories collected will always be a part of us. Today some of those memories bring tears to our eyes while others bring smiles and laughter.
I am grateful to Pastor John Campbell and Teri Inch for their help to rededicate our kneelers 30 years later. All the kneelers were cleaned and repaired after years of use. I truly wish I could have been at the service, but Virginia is a long way from Alaska! Life gets in the way sometimes and grandchildren graduate from high school and college.
I am sure there were several of our needlepointers at the rededication service. I hope you will take a few minutes to speak with them and do say a special thank you for the effort they put into kneelers that we all have enjoyed over the past 30 years. They will probably be willing to share some of the stories and memories they had of our time together.
Vyvyan Powers Rundgren