Eleanor's Sewing Ministry
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7. Eleanor's Sewing Ministry

Tape Measure

Sewing Tape MeasureFrom then on, our new children with their Bible ghost stories wanted to meet every week. Soon they were bringing their brothers and sisters, and even their parents too. Amazingly, God had used a rumor about our haunted church to open the door to people's hearts in this poor and needy community. From that point, Saint Barnabas's Church grew and grew to become a force in the slums. Many cadets and parishioners from the city labored beside us there. Miss Eleanor Gifford lived and worked in a simple but meticulously neat little room in the East End. During the days and evenings, Eleanor's sewing ministry took her out to visit many poor teenaged girls in their homes. By arranging Bible studies, sewing classes, and camping trips, her sewing kept them out of trouble but introduced them to Christ. In this selfless way, she built bridges into their lives.

Bishop Hobsons Bugs

Bed Bugs, As we came to call them, Bishop Hobsons bugs bit the Church Army team and were unwelcome bedfellows even though they slept on the wooden tables! Miss Eleanor Gifford refused a salary from the Bishop because of a vow she had made many years to God. "I used to belong to a Quaker group," she once told me. "One day, I made a covenant with God. I promised that in the future, I would devote myself to the poor. After many years as a teacher, and upon my mother's death, my opportunity finally came. That is why I'm here in the slums working with these young people." Tragically, an unknown person murdered Eleanor one night. In trying to prevent one of her young women from being drawn into prostitution, she was savagely stabbed and never recovered. Her total and absorbing commitment to bringing the worst in society to the best God could give them caused her death. Our needs and difficulties in the slums were of keen interest to Bishop Hobson whenever I visited his office.

Unwelcome Bedfellows

One day, during such an interview, I told him about an incredibly annoying problem we experienced in our old building. "It's the bed bugs, Bishop!" I blurted out guiltily. "They stop us sleeping. Even after we've washed the mattresses with disinfectant, they still come back the same night! We've resorted to lying on the tabletops, but they find us there too!" His mouth dropped open incredulously, and a cheeky grin slowly began to spread across his face. "Did they bite you?" he quipped! The very next day, someone came around to rid us of our unwelcome bedfellows!

Holy Ghost Action

Ornate Processional CrossA group of lively children led by an ornate processional cross comes for some Holy Ghost action in our haunted church in Pittsburgh. Exasperated, one cadet finally laid down the cross at my feet. "This is stupid," he spat. "We impress nobody but ourselves!" At that moment, we all sensed that we had reached a crisis point in our ministry. Every effort of ours had failed. In this experience, though we least expected it, God was preparing us for a breakthrough. One day, the cadets and I sat outside in the street chatting and idly passing away the time with a group of poor children. One of them innocently asked, "Is the church haunted, Mister? Is it?" "It could be!" I casually laughed back, then after a moment's thought, added, "How about getting some kids together tomorrow night, and we'll go and see?"

Ghost in the Tower

Haunted ChurchThat next night, we were again talking with the children outside. Suddenly a series of ghostly shrieks echoed from high above our heads. Startled, we leaped to our feet. Our mouths dropped open as we gazed upwards. There, beckoning to us through the louvered slats of a narrow window, was a pair of bare white arms! "Look," one little black boy yelled, "there's the ghost!" "I'm going up the haunted tower!" I suggested. "Who is brave enough to come too for some Holy Ghost action?"

Bible Ghost Stories

Pied Piper ChildrenRay Lewis and the Church Army cadets tell some electrifying Bible ghost stories in our big empty church to poor children off the street. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin in the nursery rhyme, Captain Ray led a mixed group of children on the promise of some Bible ghost stories into the eerie darkness of our silent church. Once inside, with the heavy wooden doors firmly closed behind us, we crossed to the vestry. Shafts of sunlight glimmered above our heads from a high window. The belfry door swung back with a hesitant creak. In the gloom, we labored up the stone spiral staircase. Our footsteps resonated ominously around us. Halfway up, a slit window sprayed welcome light on to our steps and encouraged us to press on to the top. Then, suddenly shattering the peace, a clatter of rusty iron chains crashed down the stone steps. With a yell, my young friends scampered past me to the security of the belfry door!

Bible Stories

Having seen the children enjoy this exciting new game, we then suggested another. "How about all going downstairs in the Church to listen to some Bible stories together?" An amber street lamp cast an evening glow through a half-light window across the basement. We shared our favorite Bible stories, accounts of intrigue, and mystery. Time slipped by. Then, in the lull in the conversation, a young black boy asked, "I know a Bible story about Moses, how about that?" "Let's go upstairs," I suggested, "where we have a beautiful place that is ideal for telling Bible stories." We gathered in our lovely chapel, where one cadet had run ahead and lit the two candles on the communion table. On either side of the sanctuary, two small blue gaslight flames flickered in the draft. We listened intently as one child, then another, read his favorite Bible story. In one electrifying moment, the children from the street knelt and prayed together. "Our Father, who art in Heaven."

Foot Washing Ceremony

Foot WashingCadet Eric Kast surprises Captain Ray Lewis in Camp Joy, Kentucky, with a request for a foot-washing ceremony as Jesus did it. One evening, at St. Barnabas Church in our fourth-floor apartment, Eric Kast, one of our cadets, surprised me. "Captain Lewis," he said, "I want to perform a foot-washing ceremony on you!" "Don't be silly, Eric!" I retorted with a laugh. Eric patiently kneeled in front of me. "I want to wash your feet," he repeated, "because I have resented certain orders you have given me." He then added, "the Lord has told me to humble myself that we may have true Christian fellowship together." I did not know what to say. He then eased off my shoes and socks and started to lather my feet with soap. The soapy water splashed over my toes into the basin, and I chuckled. He was healing old wounds that had separated us.

Jesus Appears

Jesus IconSomeone else was in the quietness of that room that night. My words froze on my lips. "It was Jesus!" Time stood still, suspended in eternity. Later, Eric told me that he was conscious of Jesus' presence while washing and wiping my feet. We then realized that this was the Feast of the Transfiguration in the church calendar. The transfigured Jesus gloriously appeared before us in a dusty fourth-floor room. His attendance transformed it into holy ground. We praise God to know that no walls can keep him out when he comes to bless us.✞

Kentucky Mountain Camp

Colorado RiverCaptain Ray enjoys a Kentucky mountain camp break near the Colorado River in a log cabin with a group of needy and energetic children. Once the Bishop was visiting St. Barnabas Church in Cincinnati, I plucked up enough courage to tell him how depressed I was. "I'm lonely here in the slums," I moaned. "I feel sure God is calling me to work in the Kentucky Mountains!" As he began to reply, I thought he was going to agree with me. "Yes, I know, your bishop also feels called to work in the mountains!" Then, he added, "but I'm not going, nor are you!" "If you think that way, imagine how these young people must feel who have moved into the city from the mountains. They don't know Jesus as you do, either."

Kentucky Log Cabin

Log Cabin in WoodsSometime later, a group of twenty youngsters and I set out to holiday in a little log cabin in the Kentucky Mountain Camp's pine forests. Our tassel haired gang rushed across the vast marbled departure hall of the Dixie Ferry Terminal with bags of potatoes and onions in their hands. Pushing past blue-suited business people, they hurried to catch the next boat across the river into the mountain country. Tin mugs and coffee pots tied up with string clattered together to the regular commuters' apparent astonishment. The tired kids were soon at the Mountain Camp, surrounded by pine trees. Still, they insisted on gathering stones to build a rough altar. These Cincinnati kids found so much happiness there that they renamed it "Camp Joy." Our theme song was, "Jesus first, Yourselves last, and Others in between." which spells out JOY!✞

"Eleanor's Sewing Ministry"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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