(Above) Ethel Canning (left) received a prayer quilt from Joni Burry (right). She was a loyal supporter and contributor to the Prayers and Squares group until her passing in 2020. “The quilt brought her warmth, comfort and a sense of peace as she wrapped herself in it on a daily basis,” says Mjr Maxine Boyde, Ethel’s daughter

“On Wednesdays when I come in the door, I leave the world behind,” says Salvationist Joni Burry, who leads the Prayers and Squares quilting ministry at St. John’s West Corps, N.L. The small but mighty group meets each week to answer prayer requests with needle and thread, creating prayer quilts that offer comfort and peace during hardship.

According to Lieutenant Brian DeBoer, corps officer, the ministry punches above its weight. It offers a creative ministry opportunity to women in the corps, as well as others from the community, and engages the congregation in prayer activity. “Corps ministry is about mission impact,” he says. “Our Prayers and Squares group, under Joni’s leadership, has provided compassion to the sick and hurting.”

The women who participate in the group find fellowship, connection and purpose in working together to create beautiful displays of love and care for others—and some even learn how to sew along the way. 

Prayers and Squares

In 2019, Burry visited a friend at The Salvation Army’s Northwest Corps in Houston, in the U.S.A. Southern Territory, where there was an established Prayers and Squares group. Prayers and Squares is an interfaith organization with chapters worldwide, powered by women with a passion for sewing and praying for others.

Inspired by their impact, and after helping to make a few quilts during her time in Houston, Burry brought the idea back to St. John’s West and was met by instant enthusiasm among other women at the corps. “I left my clothes in Houston and brought back quilting material!” says Burry.

The group started with only eight members and has since grown to 13 regular quilters, some with a lifetime of sewing experience while others are novices. They all work together to create prayer quilts, and each one is a collective effort between the prayer group and the people of the congregation.

Dozens of prayer quilts are displayed on pews in the sanctuary of St. John’s West Corps

“We put our quilts together with croquet cotton ties. As we make the quilt, we place it in the foyer of the church, and everybody who walks in the door will tie a knot and say a prayer for the person receiving it,” explains Burry. “When they get the quilt, they can feel the knots and know that each one is a prayer that was said for them.”

Prayers and Squares meets every Wednesday from 10 a.m. until late in the afternoon, sometimes until the early evening. Since the group began, they have distributed approximately 35 quilts to people at the corps, family and friends facing health battles, and even one member of the government in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Each quilt takes up to four weeks to complete, and everyone plays a role in making it. “We’ve got someone picking out the colours, another person cutting out fabric, someone starting to sew them together. Then we’ll do the binding and the ties. It’s never a one-person thing,” says Burry. “It’s always a group effort, so that everybody knows that they had a hand in building a prayer for someone.”

Warmth, Comfort, Peace

Most of the prayer requests made to the group come in by word of mouth. When someone in the group hears that a congregant or family member is not well, they ask if that person would like to receive a prayer quilt. “People say it brought them comfort, knowing that they were being prayed for,” says Burry.

Prayers and Squares presents Comr Floyd Tidd with a prayer quilt in April 2023

Testimonials flood in from grateful recipients who have been given these quilts at a time of great need. One recipient was a resident at Daffodil Place, an inpatient cancer facility in St. John’s. She wanted something bright and colourful to put on her bed and cheer up the room while she received treatment. “What a breath of sunshine,” she said to Burry, who delivered the quilt to her.

In April 2023, Commissioners Floyd and Tracey Tidd, then territorial leaders, attended St. John’s West Corps for its 45th anniversary. At the time, Commissioner Floyd had been diagnosed with cancer and was preparing to take a medical leave of absence from his appointment in the fall. The Prayers and Squares group came together to create a quilt—a particularly large one, according to Burry—and presented it to him.

“He said to us, ‘You have no idea what it means to be covered in prayer like this,’ ” Burry recalls. “You can feel it. It’s tangible.”

Another recipient, Lewis Hayley, was presented with his prayer quilt during a Sunday morning service at the corps. It gave him comfort as he faced a battle with blood cancer. “It was a time when I was feeling so sick and weak, and the support of others was a real strength to me and my family,” says Hayley. “This has been so powerful for my healing journey.” 

Others see the profound impact these quilts have on their loved ones. “My granddaughter went through a very traumatic experience a couple of years ago,” says one member of the corps. “She received one of these quilts and it meant so much to her. She told me whenever she was down in her spirits, she would wrap the quilt around her and think of all the love and prayers that went into it. The quilt certainly helped get her through her roughest days.”

“When they get the quilt, they can feelthe knots and know that each one is a prayerthat was said for them.” - Joni Burry

Binding Together

Many of the members of Prayers and Squares are retired, but find fellowship and connection when the group meets at the corps. “It brings tears to my eyes knowing that we are providing something for them. It makes them feel valuable,” says Burry. “I help provide a place for them to go, but it’s God’s hand that works in this group.”

The Prayers and Squares group at St. John's West Corps

For some, Prayers and Squares is the highlight of their week. For others, it is a form of therapy. When one participant’s husband passed away, she faced a difficult season. Still, she would attend meetings where she found a sense of purpose in meaningful work, and support from those around her.

“She was not an experienced sewer, but she had started making her very first quilt before her husband got sick. She finished it after he passed away. It was therapeutic for her,” says Burry.

According to quilter Joyce Miller, the fellowship is just as important as the sewing. “It is so rewarding to see new pieces come together, and to know that someone in need will have a reminder of the prayers of God’s people,” she says. “My husband says I should be banned from the fabric shops for shopping too much!”

Sylvia Tulk says she has been blessed to deliver some of the quilts made by the group. “To see the faces of recipients light up makes the Wednesday get-together so worthwhile,” she says. “It brings much comfort at a time when people really need to be wrapped in prayer.”

A Labour of Love

Many of the quilters leave their own troubles at the door and find a sense of comfort in the work they do. For the Prayers and Squares group, quilting has become a unique form of outreach and away for each of them to make an impact at a time people need it most. “It’s a labour of love,” says Burry.

“We know that there is power in prayer, and this quilting ministry is based on prayer,” says Lieutenant Natalia DeBoer, corps officer, who has witnessed God’s creativity and love at work through the people involved in Prayers and Squares. “There have been so many lives that have been touched by this ministry.”

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On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, Pauline Noseworthy said:

Wow! How amazing is this to be covered in prayer during our cancer journey.

On Monday, March 18, 2024, Marilyn jacobs said:

These ladies are the epitome of a “ living a Godly life”! Their combined actions are far reaching and attest to the fact that there is indeed “ power in prayer”!

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