Columbus girl sends handmade items to Methodist clergywomen

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Rebeka Maples was looking at the extra fabric she had lying around last summer after making masks to donate at her daughter’s clothing store when she had an idea.

What if she used it to make clerical stoles – a Christian liturgical robe made from a strip of colored cloth worn around the necks of ordained ministers – and sent them as a surprise to pastors in Ohio?

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“I thought, my goodness, wouldn’t it be nice if you work in your church and are tired and then suddenly you get this package in the mail and it gets stolen?” said Maples, 73, a retiree United Methodist Pastor.

Eventually she got the names and addresses of all pastors in the church West Ohio Conference – 164 – and began to make a stolen and matching face mask for each one.

She has done 105 so far and has already decided that after making one for every minister in the West Ohio conference, she would like to continue. She is considering moving to women at the state’s only other regional conference. East Ohio.

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Maples of Grandview Heights retired from the ministry in 2016 after serving for 16 years Thurston United Methodist Church in Fairfield County.

She spends her time running in the mornings and sewing afternoons and evenings, and also acts as the spiritual training director for them United Methodist Church degree program, a training program for people who want to serve but will not be ordained.

Maples, who made clothes for her daughter Laura S. Howe as a child, began sewing again during the pandemic. She sewed masks – 1,000 in total – for her daughter’s clothing store in Los Angeles. Matrushka construction, besides donating to those who sold it.

73-year-old Rebeka Maples holds one of the spiritual stoles she sewed as a surprise gift to other United Methodist Church clergymen to spread kindness during the pandemic.  She has made more than 100 so far and sent them with a note and a matching mask.

Actions like donating masks have inspired Maples to do more to show people that there is good in the world – and good people too.

“We forget because the negative stuff is so powerful,” said Maples. “Anyone could do something.”

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The Rev. Amy Aspey, senior pastor Short north church, said she was surprised when her stole and mask showed up on her doorstep.

“It was like a bundle of sunshine and a virtual hug that just got into my mailbox as a surprise,” she said. “The creativity and talent and love and brilliance that went into all of this is quite remarkable.”

In her note to Aspey, Maples stated that she knows that Aspey and her ministry make a difference and that she prays for them.

“I got a little tearful when I received it because those are the best surprises,” said Aspey. “Just as a nice reminder of the beloved community we share, a source of encouragement and a reminder of our connection. And in a socially distant time, these things are deeply meaningful in my opinion.”

Rebeka Maples is holding one of the spiritual stoles she sewed as a gift for other United Methodist Church ministers during the pandemic.

Although Maples has received several thank you letters from women who received their handcrafted stoles, she said she doesn’t want any praise. She just wants the women to think about how to pass the kindness on to someone else.

“You get something, then maybe you get inspired to think about how you can do something,” said Maples. “We can make the world a better place by each of us doing something. Maybe they just call someone or say ‘thank you’ to the people in the stores who have been through this whole pandemic.”

Returning to sewing was a prayerful, contemplative act for Maples.

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“It’s like I’m doing this on my own. The whole process is prayer,” said Maples. “It was really rewarding for me to do that.”

It takes Maples about eight hours to create each stole and mask combination, both of which are reversible.

Embedded in the package, Maples adds a label that says they are part of their COVID challenge: “Sewing Seeds of Kindness”. There’s also a note about what’s inside, a promise that she will pray for the recipient, and a poem called “Sewing For You” that talks about how all people are connected to one another.

Finished stoles and matching masks in all colors are in Rebeka Maples' house in Grandview Heights before she sends them out as a surprise to other clergymen of the United Methodist Church.

Maples particularly wanted to send the stoles to female clergymen because she knows the unique struggles women face in service, she said.

“There is still a lot of discrimination in the church and women are isolated and ignored and not promoted as I think men do,” Maples said. “It’s changed a lot, of course, but it’s still there.”

The Fox. Linda MiddelbergThe denominational superintendent of the Capitol Area North District agreed, saying that there are still churches that don’t believe women should be clergy.

“It’s better – it gets better every year – but it’s still there,” said Middelberg.

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And during the pandemic, clergymen have often been on the front lines taking care of those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus, which can put a greater burden on women, she said.

“I’m sure every single person in the ministry faces a unique situation, but we are still in one place in most of our households where women do most of the emotional work with the family and then with their parishioners do it, “said Middelberg. “In my opinion, it was particularly difficult during this pandemic period.”

Aspey has found that reminding people that she also has a seat at the table as a female clergyman can be exhausting.

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“When people have a picture of a pastor, women are rarely the default,” Aspey said. “There can be a struggle that needs to be taken seriously … women need to explain and even rationalize their space.”

When she is with her husband, people often mistake him for the minister, she said. In other cases she is referred to as “honey”, “baby” or “sweetheart” rather than “minister” by her people.

Aspey knows that Maples understands a pastor’s unique challenges, and that made the gift more meaningful to her, too.

“When other women are cheering us on and encouraging us from a place that came before,” she said, “it’s just this affirmation of ‘go ahead, you are seen and you are valued’.”

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@ DanaeKing