"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."
The Fabric of Friends & Rev. Mark Koyama ’84
The Fabric of Friends
A visiting installation organized through the Center for Peace, Equity and Justice, Rev. Mark Koyama ’84, and the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry has come to Friends.
“There is this thing about quilting, it is a narrative art form in the sense that it oftentimes is, and traditionally was, made from the remnants of the lives of families. It is deeply involved in the African American experience. Quilting is an art form that is embedded in the older generation but that young people appreciate. It has the ability to bridge both racial and generational divides.” Rev. Mark Koyama ’84 is the minister at the United Church of Jaffrey, a United Church of Christ (UCC), in New Hampshire. When Black Lives Matter once again gained national attention in the spring of 2020, his church had many conversations about their role in the conversation. As a church in a small, predominantly white town in New Hampshire, there were reservations about being political. But when George Floyd was murdered, his faith community wanted to find a way to stand up and stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. They put “Black Lives Matter” on the sign outside their church, and a parishioner asked for fabric to make a banner. This banner blossomed into the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry, a group of people from nine churches throughout the UCC in New Hampshire who collaborated through Zoom and created 10 quilts with George Floyd’s last words on them. “I immediately recognized this as a golden idea that would create a community around a shared purpose. It was a way to bring two communities together; it represented a connection of a demographic of white people who wanted to be allies, but did not know how.”
“I was sensitive to the fact that a collaborative effort that culminates in a symbolic product is the goal for a church. It creates community around a shared project that has real significance.” The quilts have since gone from people’s living rooms and from designs discussed in Zoom rooms, to hanging in schools all over the northeast. The quilts will come to Friends Seminary this spring so that students, alumni, faculty and staff can experience the power of this community project. “It was a project. Then as soon as we had the actual quilts complete, we suddenly recognized that the project part was only the initial stages and this had the life of an exhibition. The mission was going to move out into the world as a ministry.”
Mark and those who participated in the project had the opportunity to experience the many ways that these quilts contribute to the conversation of racial justice. “Communication these days is instant, and this is the ultimate slow down. You cannot go slower than cutting words out of fabric and sewing them onto a background. There is extraordinary liturgical value in slowing down, and in doing so, you give ultimate respect to George Floyd’s words.”
Mark sees this project as bringing about a world that ought to be. Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry is a ministry that is continuing to raise awareness about George Floyd’s death, even as the months go on. “Our original hope was to get the quilts done quickly so we could seize the moment.” But Rev. Mark received some advice from a co-organizer, Dr. Harriet Corean Ward: “It’s okay if it takes more time, this is not new, we have been oppressed for 400 years. This is going to be as relevant in September as it is in July. It’s really helpful that it comes out later. That way we can keep the story alive. Keep the urgency. The distillation of pain.” Rev. Mark reflects, “By insisting the news cycle not move past it, we are trying to bring about a world that ought to be.”