This past weekend, the annual New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale was held a short distance outside the city. The event, which started in 1967, is held on the last Friday and Saturday of May. All proceeds from the sales go to the Mennonite Central Committee, which distributes funds and volunteers to areas of the world suffering from poverty, natural disaster, conflict and oppression.
The event is famous for its quilt auction and each year hundreds of donated quilts are sold to the highest bidder. I admired the displays during the Friday night preview and there is no doubt that quilting is an art form.
The amount of work that goes into the design, piecing, embroidery and bindings of each quilt would seldom be adequately reimbursed at a minimum hourly rate at the time of sale. The featured quilt sold for $11,100.00 this year, and the total quilt auction sales were $187,285.00.
Quilting is still a common social activity in the Mennonite community. Church and community groups meet together throughout the year to work on a large project, and the women share a friendship and camaraderie that is becoming a thing of the past.
The Relief Sale featured plenty of other interesting venues. Crafts from around the world were sold in the Ten Thousand Villages tent. We have a number of these stores in South Western Ontario that sell fair trade items, from crafts, jewellery and gifts to coffee, tea and sugar.
No Mennonite sale would be complete without homemade foods. One of my husband's young co-workers described how he had worked with the group who made 1500 pie crusts that morning. On Saturday these crusts were made into fresh strawberry pies, constructed in assembly line fashion by many volunteers. There were ethnic foods as well as the usual Pennsylvania-Dutch fare. The line up for tea balls was soooo long;- they must have been really good. Jars of dandelion jelly were sold along with local honey, elderberry jam and other delicious preserves.
The Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are peace churches, spiritual descendants of the Anabaptists of Europe. While they will not carry arms, they work in areas of conflict as peacemakers. This song from their hymnal describes the mission they feel is their calling in the world. Without a doubt, their labours of love and compassion were evident on this occasion.
Brothers and sisters of ours are the hungry
Who sigh in their sorrow and weep in their pain.
Sisters and brothers of ours are the homeless
Who wait without shelter from wind and from rain.
People are they, men and women and children
And each has a heart keeping time with our own
People are they, persons made in God's image
So what shall we offer them, bread or a stone?
Lord of all living, we make our confession
Too long we have wasted the wealth of our lands
Lord of all loving, renew our compassion
And open our hearts while we reach out our hands.