A ministry to the needy is testing the limits of charity and asking Carroll County pastors for the shirts off their backs.
Volunteers at Shepherd's Staff, a Westminster-based ecumenical charity, have stitched the shirts into fanciful pillows, which will be sold to benefit the organization's outreach programs.
Pastor Pillows could be the ultimate recycling project, one that can turn shirts into profits for the charity, said Kathy Brown, Shepherd's Staff's director. She could have a steady supply of free raw materials. Most people have extra clothes in the closets, even men and women of the cloth, she said.
"When I said I wanted the shirts off their backs, they answered, 'Lord, Kathy, you want everything.' I am known for that," she said. "I have to do things for free. It's the only way that I can make money."
The Rev. Roger Strait, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Shipley, paraphrased a Scripture verse that says, "If a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak also."
"I was waiting to hear she wanted our coats, too," Strait said.
"That could be next," answered Brown.
Brown is looking for a long-term, self-sustaining project that can generate income for Shepherd's Staff, which is supported by 42 churches in the county.
"Generosity is everywhere, but there is a limit to what churches can do," Brown said. "I need a project to bring dollars to Shepherd's Staff."
Each pillow is tagged with the pastor's name and home church.
Monsignor Arthur F. Valenzano, pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, gave his clerical black shirt and color. It stands out among the button-downs, pinstripes and broadcloths.
Strait selected a whimsical pale pink instead of solid white, like the one deemed most ministerial and donated by the Rev. Gary Pearson of Westminster United Church of Christ.
"I asked my wife which one," said Pearson. "We would do anything to help Shepherd's Staff. No one else is doing what they are for the needy."
A soft floral print with buttons on the left surely belonged to the Rev. Elaine Emeth, associate pastor of Westminster United Methodist. It was a favorite blouse, but Emeth wanted something feminine to denote women in the ministry.
"I didn't mind giving it up. It was sacrificial," said Emeth. "After all, that was the point. This is a shirt that I would still wear."
Emeth, who prefers pullovers, had a little trouble locating a button-down shirt in her wardrobe. Carol Bell, a Westminster seamstress who designed the pillows, insisted on buttons.
"The button feature is practical because you can remove the pillow and wash the cover and then put it back on," said Bell.
Bell hopes to embroider each pastor's name on the shirt pockets. The design was easy for the seamstress.
"They said they wanted to make pillows out of shirts and asked me to come up with something," Bell said. "I got the design just by working on it. I made it up as I went along " One sleeve crosses the front of the pillow, the other is excess material that Bell uses to make a flap inside the collar.
"If this project takes off, we can all get together at my house and make more," Bell said. "You can do one in a half-hour. I have tons of sewing machines."
The pillows were a topic of conversation at the monthly meeting of the Westminster ministerium yesterday. Sister Marie Bernadette, an assistant at St. John, regretted she had no shirt, but offered her nun's veil to the cause. Strait asked to borrow his pink pillow for a few days.
"It will be an incentive," Strait said. "I am going to wave it in front of my congregation and let people know that they have to do more than buy a pillow."
"OK, but don't wrinkle it," said Brown.
The pillows will be displayed and sold Nov. 8 at Festival of Memories, the staff's annual benefit at Martin's Westminster. Information: 410-840-8199.
Pub Date: 10/22/99