Colorful patchwork quilts were draped along the pews of the church’s sanctuary. Each one was as unique as the hands that stitched it. Sonja Kinard, a member of the Threads of Fellowship sewing group, looked over each one.
For decades, the local program has helped to create and share comfort by making blankets for those less fortunate.
“We’re sending 50 some odd quilts, which some have already been given to MAP International. The rest of them are going to Lutheran World Relief,” Kindard said.
“They actually put trackers in them so you can find out where they go,” church member Donna Opalinski added. “This past year they were to Zambia, Tanzania, Iraq and Mauritania.”
Threads of Fellowship is comprised both of St. James members, as well as those who simply enjoy the work. Most of the materials are donated and crafters begin work at 10 a.m. every Tuesday morning in the fellowship hall.
“You don’t have to be a member. We have ladies who aren’t ... and we even have one man who comes. He does a lot of the tops for the quilts,” Kindard said.
While it’s an important mission, the quilts are just one of many programs the Brunswick-based church offers as a form of outreach to the community. This year, they’ve also added shoes to the mix.
“We have a member of our sewing group, Dee Jenkins, and she saw that a shoe store was going out of business. She bought all the shoes they had left. We have boxes and boxes of them in the back,” Kindard said. “So we will be giving those away.”
Finding a way to engage members, and hopefully, to reach to potential congregants, is critically important to the church. Like many in present day America, the congregation, which has existed for 114 years, has found keeping their numbers up to be a challenge. But they’re always extending invitations to worship and hope to see an uptick in younger church members.
“We have a great Bible study program. We have a nursery attendant too,” Kindard said.
“We’re a very welcoming church. We welcome anyone regardless of race, background, sexual orientation,” Opalinski said.
But even with a smaller roster, the group has a broad reach. It was one of the things that most impressed Opalinski when she joined five years ago.
“It’s a small congregation, but we do a lot. When I first came, I was so totally impressed by what that this small, little church is able to do with the people they have. They are really dedicated to it,” she said. “And they keep you busy.”
The members are definitely about walking the proverbial walk. The various programs give members a pathway to live their faith, while filling vital needs. Sometimes that can be as simple as extending an invite for a meal to those who live in the homes near their 2229 Starling St. location.
“St. James Lutheran Church, and a lot of other churches, we see ourselves as part of a neighborhood. We need to find out what the needs are and then be out serving the community,” Opalinski said.
Serve they do. In fact, they are inviting those living in and around Goodyear Park in Brunswick out for a picnic from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. They will share food and fellowship, while also offering back to school supplies for children.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Members also sign up to serve hot meals at a local soup kitchen and collect nonperishable items for food pantries throughout the year.
“We serve at Manna House once a month. I think our count was over 2,000 meals for the year, which I think is incredible. We also collect food for Sparrow’s Nest, that’s ongoing. We delivered something like 270 bags of groceries to Sparrow’s Nest last year,” Opalinski said.
Church members step up to sponsor underprivileged families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, collecting food and toys for those who would otherwise go without during the holidays. They’re also supporters of the Seafarer’s Center’s Christmas project. But it’s not just helping during the holidays, the church also opens its doors to help provide education for the public on a number of topics. They’ve hosted CPR workshops and classes on disaster recovery. They’ve brought in members of the hospital who have spoken about the extensive construction at their Brunswick location just a few streets over.
They have also hosted speakers who have shared about the statewide Hope Works program.
“Hope Works helps seniors with weatherization of their homes or with heating or AC units,” Kinard said.
While they primarily focus on taking care of their human brothers and sisters, the outreach extends to all of God’s creatures.
“We also collect food for the county animal shelter. We give not only food for our furry friends but also towels. They need towels and sheets for cleaning the animals and for surgeries. We provide that as well.”
In addition to working at home, St. James also has international outreach programs. They assemble baby care kits as well as personal care kits that are shipped abroad via the Lutheran World Relief Project.
The work is something that makes the congregation proud. And it’s something that certainly makes the Rev. Kay Yates, the church’s pastor smile.
Yates, who previously served as interim minister, returned to the church in June. She is hopeful that the church’s missions and outreach will help others, while serving God.
“We want to be in fellowship with others. Church is more than just worshipping on Sunday morning. It’s worshipping so that we can be part of the community around us,” Yates said.