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Gifts that keep giving...every Sunday

Paynesville woman has crafted several beautiful vestments for her church

By Karen Flaten

Ann Lemke with the altar cloth and lectern cloth for Lent that she made for Paynesville Lutheran Church. Photo by Karen Flaten

When Ann Lemke was a young girl, she watched her mother and some of the other women of St. Augustine’s Church in St. Cloud making banners to hang in the church. Ann remembers her mother working on one banner in particular. It reminded Ann of a large quilt. Perhaps, she mused many years later, that banner is where some of her inspiration for creating vestments for her church came from.

Ann has been touted as “a very talented member” of Paynesville Lutheran Church, as expressed by fellow parishioner Siegmund (Sig) Pfeiffer. Ann has been designing and making paraments and stoles for the church for several years. “She does this process from beginning to end, and it is truly professional!” stated Sig, who was exposed to the quantity as well as the quality of Ann’s work at a recent Adult Education Hour at the church. Of course, he knew she had made some of the vestments for the church, but he didn’t know the extent of her work, nor had he seen them up close. But now, Sig can truly appreciate these works of art that adorn the altar and lectern.

Paraments are defined as liturgical hangings on and around the altar, such as altar cloths, as well as the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern. A stole is defined as a long, decorated strip of cloth worn around the neck or over one shoulder by officiating clergy of various churches.

Ann is the first to say that she hasn’t made all the paraments that the church uses. Churches change altar cloths and banners depending on the liturgical season. Ann has made several, for some of the liturgical seasons. Ann mentioned Lent, Advent, and Pentecost (also used for Confirmation) as the ones she has made, often teaming up with the Quilting Committee - especially Margaret Niedan, a pro quilter - to create complex designs for the altar cloths and accompanying lectern hangings. The red paraments she made for Pentecost have accompanying banners which were made by the Banner Committee, lead by Dee Haines, from a sketch Ann provided. The paraments she made for Lent are reversible, with a crown of thorns theme on one side (only used during Holy Week), and a soft, wavy purple pattern on the other. Her blue Advent paraments used a strip quilting technique that she learned from women with whom she volunteered at the ROSE Center in Paynesville in the early 2000s. Anne credits Dorine Fuchs and Juanita Moser of St. Louis Parish in Paynesville for teaching her this technique.

“These,” said Ann, “are my favorites... There is a shadow of the stable and Bethlehem along the path on the right side…” The large stars interspersed in the pattern seem to shine brightly as well, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem.

But Ann does not only make the altar cloths and coverings for the lectern for the church. She has also made an entire set of stoles for Pastor Paul Shumaker of Paynesville Lutheran Church. Just as the church changes its paraments depending on the liturgical season, pastors also need a different stole for each liturgical season, in colors representing that season: blue for Advent – meaning hope, purple for Lent - suggesting repentance and solemnity, red for Pentecost – representing the color of fire, green for the time after Pentecost, as well as for weddings; and white or gold for Easter and Christmas.

“It all started with Pastor Paul,” said Ann, discussing the altar cloths and vestments she created for Paynesville Lutheran Church. Paul Shumaker was a personal friend of Ann’s and a fellow parishioner before he became a minister.

“His kids were the same ages as mine,” said Ann. Their families were intermingled in many ways. Ann’s kids took piano lessons from Paul’s wife, Kari. And, although the kids did not attend school in the same school district, the families had plenty of time together when the kids could interact.

So when Paul Shumaker decided to attend the seminary and go into the ministry, the idea came to Ann to create the stoles that he would need. For his ordination, Ann made a set of stoles for him to wear, as a gift. Paul then was called to be the pastor at Paynesville Lutheran, where he has been since 2012.

It is customary, explained Pastor Paul, for a minister to receive a gift of stoles at his ordination – from the church, the congregation, or an important person in his or her life. For the remainder of the stoles they will need, ministers usually order a set of stoles from a company that supplies them. But, said Pastor Paul, after receiving the first set of stoles from Ann as a gift, he and his wife decided to order an entire set from her.

“We paid for her to make them,” said Pastor Paul, “but not much, probably not what they are worth….we probably paid for the material…” And, he continued, “We consider them all to be a gift.”

Different from the stoles that can be ordered from liturgical supply companies, these are handmade, and incorporate the intricate designs and techniques that Ann has learned through the years. All the stoles Ann made for Pastor Paul are reversible. She made two sets of green stoles. One set is a special wedding stole; the other is green on one side and rainbow colors on the other, which is worn for festivals.

The wedding stole is probably one of her most intricate designs. It is based on what is known as the “wedding scripture,” found in Ecclesiastes 4:12, ‘a cord of 3 strands is not quickly broken.’ This Bible verse, said Pastor Paul, is often interpreted to mean that a marriage that includes God is stronger than one which does not. One side of the wedding stole shows a cross and a cord. As Pastor Paul described it, the cross is white and continues to weave down. Two other strands represent the married couple, and are woven together. The third strand represents God, and is woven in with the other two strands, thus representing the cord of three strands and the strength of a marriage that includes God.

Some of the stoles that Ann made for Pastor Paul. Contributed photo

Ann recalled another stole that she made which she designed in partnership with her mother. Ann’s mother, Helen Bettendorf, was part of a group that made a mission trip to Kenya in 2016, to visit a parish in Homa Bay, Kenya, located on Lake Victoria. As part of the mission, the group planned to bring gifts. Some were intended for the community, such as children’s books and homemade baby garments made by members of the church. Some were special items for worship, such as altar furnishings, rosaries, and prayer petitions. Helen expressed the wish to make a stole for the bishop as a gift. She and Ann brainstormed about the design and made some sketches together. In the end, they decided to create a stole in variations of green, but with a line of blue running through it to symbolize the water in both places: Lake Victoria, where the Kenya parish is located, and the Mississippi River, which runs through St. Cloud, where Helen’s church is located. They also used brown for buildings, which represent the cathedrals in both St. Cloud and Homa Bay. Once the design was completed, it was Ann who fabricated the stole to be given to the bishop in Kenya.

Ann became interested in sewing at a young age. Sewing and being creative with fabric was something she saw at home. Her grandmother used to make clothing for the grandkids, and her mother sewed as well, often creating items for the church, such as the banners that Ann remembered from her youth. Ann also participated in 4-H, where she worked on many sewing projects. “She made herself a coat in 4-H,” said Ann’s mother Helen, who mentored her in sewing as part of 4-H.

“4-H was a really big part of my life and encouraged me to try many new things and master those I enjoyed,” said Ann. “It also influenced my decision to follow a career that was creative, and later teach hands-on courses to teens. I gained a lot of self-confidence through competing in 4-H.

I’ve always been really interested in how things fit the body, and then just using colors. I love using colors. And I really enjoy fabric!” she said.

Taking her passion for fabric and design to new heights, Ann moved to the Twin Cities for college, completing a B.S. in Clothing and Textiles at the University of Minnesota. After graduating in 1992, Ann worked for several years in the fashion industry in Minneapolis, designing items and creating sample products for manufacturers. But after getting married and starting a family, Ann and her husband Todd moved to Paynesville, where he had been hired as a pharmacist at Centracare Health. They purchased a small farm and settled into the community, joining Paynesville Lutheran Church.

“I retired when I was 29,” said Ann of her career. Ann stayed home to raise her children, and has only recently returned to working full time. But Ann’s version of staying home and raising children meant becoming very involved in her community. There were many volunteer opportunities as well as some interesting ways to use her flair for design. Volunteering at the ROSE Center in Paynesville, and finding ways to help out with her church, have kept her busy and allowed her to keep using her design and sewing skills. The paraments and stoles she made for Pastor Paul and Paynesville Lutheran Church allowed her to keep refining her skills, as well as to work with fabric and colors.

After raising her children, Ann went on to earn a master’s degree online from Stevens Point University in Wisconsin in Family and Consumer Science. She got her teaching degree in 2019, and now teaches Fashion & Apparel Design, Interior Design, and some foods classes at St. Cloud’s Tech and Apollo High Schools in the Family & Consumer Sciences Department.

Ann with youngest son, Henry, at his confirmation. Red paraments in background. Contributed photo

Ann’s passion for fabric and design has rubbed off on her children. Both her daughter and her youngest son have been involved in the National Make It With Wool contests. In fact, Ann’s son, Henry, recently was the Junior National winner in the National Make It With Wool contest in January 2023.

“He is an outstanding tailor; he is really good,” said Ann. “His technical skills are exquisite!”

Although Ann’s expertise in sewing and design have allowed her to create interesting and intricate altar cloths, stoles, and other items, it is her giving attitude and heart that her friends want to emphasize. As Pastor Paul put it, “She is and the whole family is just generous, thoughtful, and caring.”

When asked what her plans are for the future, Ann responded, “Maybe someday, when I am done teaching, I will make time to create more or even stretch it to a small business. For now, I am happy to be teaching teens to sew at St. Cloud Tech and Apollo and discover their own passions. It is my goal that they can use their creativity to find lifework that brings them joy, and makes our community a better place.”

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