Textile & Text: The Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry at the Congregational Library & Archives
When faced with criticism for publicizing her voice, puritan poet Anne Bradstreet once lamented, “[they] say my hand a needle better fits.” Whether employing the pen, the needle, or the lectern, generations of Black and white Congregational women and men have developed rich ways of challenging the status quo.
Beginning on Juneteenth (June 19th), the Congregational Library & Archives is honored to host a three-day display of quilts created by the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry alongside a selection of materials drawn from the Congregational Library & Archives’ extensive collections at 14 Beacon Street, Boston. Together, these exhibitions demonstrate a shared thread of resistance and activism that can be traced through centuries of Congregational and American history.
During the long pandemic summer of 2020, nine United Church of Christ congregations in New Hampshire collaborated to make ten quilts that together memorialize the last words of George Floyd and document the painful experience of his death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020.
The Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry uses the narrative art of quilting as both a healing balm and a catalyst for transformation. The creators hope that in viewing the quilts, people are led not only to remembrance, but to reflection and action. By creating space for sacred conversations within our communities, viewers begin to wash away the sin of white supremacy and racism—little by little, stitch by stitch.
These quilts are far more than a commentary on current events. They are a distillation of four hundred years of oppression. They express the devastating pain of America’s racial wounds. As Dr. Harriet Ward, member of Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Brentwood-Kingston and creator of three quilts for the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry project so poignantly says, “‘I can’t breathe’ is the lamentation of centuries.”
In churches, schools, and colleges, the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry: Prayers in Thread exhibition has become a powerful tool for provoking transformative conversations about race in the United States, contributing to Congregationalism’s long history of advancing social justice.
For 170 years, the Congregational Library & Archives has gathered and shared the story of Congregationalism and its impact in the United States and around the world. the Threads of Resistance: Black Voices and Women’s Activism exhibition was developed to accompany the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry display and reveals the legacy of Black truth-speaking and the history of Congregational women’s activism over the centuries.
Letters, sermons, appeals, poetry, and other materials tell the stories of the first ordained African American Congregational minister, activists who founded anti-slavery and temperance societies, enslaved men and women who crafted confessions and relations of faith, and women who rejected the dominant theological frameworks of their time to become ministers, missionaries, and reformers.
From works by well-known figures like Langston Hughes, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and Lemuel Haynes, to materials from individuals whose names deserve greater recognition, such as Lydia Bourne, Sarah Parker Remond, and Ella Hobart, this exhibition of materials drawn from the extensive collections of the Congregational Library & Archives illustrates the diverse ways that women and men have challenged the status quo across the centuries of Congregational history.
In connection with this exhibition, we are pleased to host a special conversation at the Congregational Library on Monday, June 19th from 2-4 pm EDT with the leaders of the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry, Rev. Mark Koyama, Dr. Harriet Ward, and Kathy Blair. Tickets for this event are free, but extremely limited. To learn more about this conversation, please visit congregationallibrary.org/events/sacredalliesconversation.
The Southern New England Tour of the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry has been organized by the Southern New England United Church of Christ Conference. For other stops on the tour, see sneucc.org/the-southern-new-england-sacred-ally-quilt-tour.