Bend church gets new vestments

Stitchers hand make new garments, banners, to replace fire-damaged ones

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

Published May 24, 2014 at 12:11AM

Faith is fireproof.

In March 2013, arson fires destroyed or damaged virtually all of Trinity Episcopal Church’s altar linens and vestments — the special clothes, including stoles and chasubles, worn by clergy during worship services.

Over the months that ensued, a handful of the downtown Bend church’s members, led by art quilter Helen Brisson, invested their time and energy handmaking colorful replacements.

On Monday, Brisson and fellow church members Carol Spongberg and Carol Luther, both of Bend, and Martha Saunders, of Redmond, met The Bulletin at the church for a short tour of their work.

“Everything, pretty much, was damaged. There were a few things that made it through the fire, but most were not usable,” said Brisson, who joined the church after moving to Bend from Kansas City, Mo., five years ago.

“Out of the things that we kept that had burns (or) smoke damage, water damage, we’re cutting parts and pieces of that up, and we’re going to make a funeral pall, which will be a combination (representing) all of the years here. Hopefully, people will maybe see something in it that reminds them of one of the services, or something,” Brisson continued.

The Healing Tree

The March 6, 2013, fires set by an unknown arsonist damaged two of the church’s facilities: the original church at 469 N.W. Wall St. — often referred to as the church with the red door, or the red-door church — and St. Helens Hall, a former Lutheran church purchased in 2004 by Trinity Episcopal.

While construction on the main church continues, the rebuilding of St. Helens Hall was completed this winter. In January, the city gave the church the all-clear to move in and begin holding services at St. Helens Hall. In February, a dedication ceremony was held.

For the occasion, Brisson and company used a preprinted pattern called “The Healing Tree,” which Brisson’s husband spotted in a fabric store.

“My husband actually found it and said, ‘Ooh, look at this. This is cool,’” Brisson said. “And then I saw the name, and it said ‘The Healing Tree.’” The pattern features a colorful tree with swirling branches and vibrant leaves.

“And it just hit me: We need to (use) that for our celebration when we moved back in. And so the Healing Tree became the main focus on the chasuble (a garment worn by clergy) for the celebration. Because, I mean, a tree? We were shaken, our leaves, but we have very deep roots here. So that was … very symbolic.”

Butterflies about butterflies

A banner that hangs high on the wall over the altar features three large butterflies.

“Butterflies are what you see at Easter, the whole caterpillar, cocoon and rebirth,” Brisson said. It replaced a polyester banner that survived the fire, “(but) we weren’t too crazy about it.”

The blueprint Brisson used for the banner came from “a place mat pattern that I just blew up,” she said. “These ladies, along with a couple of others, worked on the butterflies. They chose the fabric for their butterflies, and I did all the quilting on it.”

Brisson is moved to tears recalling the “doubts and fears” they had picking out the colors.

“It was just really hard to do,” she said.

“These ladies said to me, ‘It’s going to be so great on Easter Day to sit there and look at those butterflies and know that I made one,” Brisson said.

Trinity Needlers

All involved in the efforts are women. If they were acquainted prior, their bond seems more tightly woven now.

“We just know each other through church and a little bit of quilting together,” Brisson said.

“All the Needlers,” chimed in Luther.

That’s “Needlers” with an uppercase N, because the group has a name — the Trinity Needlers.

“We’re the worker bees,” said Martha Saunders.

“There was such a need for everybody in the community to help,” Brisson said. “When this came up, this, to me, was just an opportunity for us to give back.”

The church’s insurance policy is covering the cost of fabric for the project, which used some of professional artist Brisson’s design work.

Brisson originally put out the call to take up needles in the church’s Sunday bulletin.

About eight parishioners have been involved, including Barbara Lowery, Linda Phillips and Judi Ingels, who were not present for this tour. The group meets one Thursday a month at Brisson’s Bend studio to work on church projects or their individual projects. The work is ongoing.

“I will probably not run out of ideas so I hope I don’t wear them out,” Brisson said.

Loss and recovery

Lost in the fire was a stole Brisson made for the Rev. Roy Green, “a commissioned piece that I created for him along with a matching one for his wife Rev. Nancy Green, who is pastor in Sunriver.”

Brisson confesses that replacing her original stole has stirred up angry feelings about the fires.

“It has taken me longer than it should to remake it because of the anger I would feel about the fire every time I started to re-create it. Working on … ‘The Healing Tree’ helped (me) work through that anger, and I am pleased to say (the stole) is almost complete.”

Some other good has come from the fire, Brisson said.

“The one thing that came out of this whole fire is how unaware we all were of what was in the building, where it was and the value of everything for insurance purposes,” Brisson added by email after the interview.

“This has taught me personally and as the current Altar Guild leader to keep things up to date, know where things are and why we have them — don’t keep things that we no longer use just because we might someday.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com