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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM

250th Anniversary Quilt Dedication

Susan O'Connor and Dianne Heberling, April 17, 2005

Susan O'Connor

We come here today to dedicate this quilt—finally. Before we get to that part, Susan and I want to explain how this quilt got started 14, yes 14, years ago.

The year is 1991. Rev. Bruce Clary was the minister. We were in the midst of the 20th anniversary year of dedicating this church building. 1994 would mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of this parish. And like this year, Easter was early—March 31st.

The Worship Committee wanted to do something special that Easter Sunday to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the building with the focus of the service being “What this Church means to Me.” Rather than just hand out something at the beginning of the service and ask people to jot down a few words, we wanted something that would require more thought and preparation especially in light of the theme—“What this Church Means to Me.”

We wanted something visual. So we came up with the idea of creating a quilt out of paper. Anyone who wanted would bring in a “quilt square” with either words or drawings on it depicting some aspect of church life that was particular meaningful to them. Articles went into the Packet, forms were sent out so that the square would be approximately the same size, supplies were provided to anyone who requested them, the project was underway.

I had no idea what we would get the squares kept coming and coming and coming. The Saturday before Easter three of us armed with tape and huge pieces of easel paper taped to the back wall of the sanctuary started “quilting the blocks.” It was a sight to behold and it stayed up for weeks. No one wanted it to go away.

It did disappear over the summer, but not before we were able to salvage some of the squares.

And so was born the genesis of another idea—a permanent Quilt for the 250th anniversary of the church in 1994. Several of us got together—Ruth Hansen, Diane Heberling, Christie DiCastro, Ruby McKay, Lynn Gaylord, Carol Russell, Linda Winship, Norma Sidebottom, Susan O’Connor-( and others I’ve unfortunately forgotten)—to plan the quilt. At the annual meeting in 1992 Ruth Hansen and I distributed instructions for turning the paper blocks into cloth blocks.

There were two rules: first, that each block be 13” square with a ½” seam allowance around the design, and second, that the background be off-white if it was going to show. We needed at least 48 blocks and hoped that by giving everyone the summer to work on them that the blocks would all be turned in by October 1st.

It was an interesting time. Some people wanted a quilt block but didn’t feel competent to create it, so they commissioned others to make their block. Some people submitted several telling us to use whichever one we liked best (we used them all). Some people moved away and still wanted their quilt block included. Others died before they could complete their square. Some painted their blocks. Others did traditional quilting. Some kept the off-white background. Others completely filled it in.

October 1st came and went and we still didn’t have all the blocks. Then February and finally in May we called for a final deadline—Mother’s Day 1993. Well they were all in—almost.

Then the fun began in earnest. Quilting bees in the parlor to cut all the squares to a consistent size, trying to figure out how to arrange them, cutting the sashings and assembling the blocks. Jumping over the blocks on the floor in stocking feet because we didn’t have enough room to more around in the parlor. We had visions of everyone in the church taking at least one quilting stitch during coffee hours. George Hansen made us a quilt frame. All summer we worked on this and in the middle of the Fall of 1993 we had the top complete and then we encountered a snag—a HUGE snag, major roadblock—the quilt was too large to hang anywhere in the church with any kind of protection!

That roadblock stopped everything. We were stymied. We missed the 250th anniversary completely. We really had no idea how to proceed and so the quilt languished, carefully wrapped, in what had become my office for years.


Dianne Heberling

Some of you may not know me. I am Dianne Heberling. I grew up in this Church from childhood, thriving well in its love and history and spiritual inspiration.

Before going on I want to invite you to turn around to look at the quilt at anytime while I'm talking. That is our special attraction of the day.

One of my goals as a former chairperson of the Church during the 90's was to facilitate the completion of our guilt. I worried that some of the Church elders who had dreamed up, designed,and even handcrafted squares would not get to see the quilt finished. Obviously we failed in that mission and I share celebration with sadness at this dedication. but Church life was busy and demanding and the project remained stagnant even longer--except--that we felt certain we had to split the quilt apart.

Enter... Joan O'Hare, an avid and expert quilter who had started attending church shortly thereafter. We explained our dilemma and Joan volunteered for a "summer project"--to separate the quilt face into more manageable pieces--the ones you see today. People came forward with a few more squares to balance the sides. Susan O'Connor continued to be a driving force throughout.

Enter...Susan Stewart Racicot who worked for hours with Joan hand quilting the central banner which depicts the dates of our 250 years celebrated in 1994 and also the seven Unitarian Universalist Principles:

  • Value and dignity of every human personality
  • Justice
  • Spiritual growth
  • Search for Truth and Meaning
  • Democratic Process
  • Peace
  • Web of Life

Joan arranged to have the larger pieces professionally quilted and then completed the project by hand stitching the binding and hanging plackets.

Enter...Brad Russell and Jack Sidebottom who always answer the call for help. Our quilt gets hung and we're ready for dedication amidst the ooh's and aah's and tears.

I would also encourage you to check out the quilting to see how each block's quilting is tailored to the individual design. It's wonderful.

While the story of making his quilt is another example of our fabulous sharing and caring, the real significance is in the stories of the blocks themselves. Some represent a multi-generational presence in the Church's history--like the Forbes Family tree, the O'Hare ancestry which goes way back, and the four generations of Inness/Bartletts offspring who are presently active in the church.

Other squares depict activities of the Church--for example, Church fairs, the infamous Strawberry Festivals of the 50's, 60's and 70's, the 20/40 Club which originally started post WWII 1940's as a social group of Church couples who were between the ages of 20-40. By the way--the bylaws has to be changed since the members didn't want to leave when they turned 40 years old.

Significance of the blocks may be obvious as in the christening square designed by marge Boutillier or subtle like the musical notes entitled "Harmony Through Music" my Natalie Fee who sang in the choir and transformed into Natasha when performing in musical reviews sponsored by the Church. Her husband Stewart Fee made the chalice square in memory of his mother-in-law Ethel Stevens, also a former Church member. Kathryn Moore, sister-in-law to Bruce Clary, a former minister, very cleverly included the numbers of her favorite hymns on her flag and hymn board design. The Bartletts are "peared" off on their block to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1991. They are here today working on their 64th year of marriage which they can work on a little longer if they want to beat his parents record of 71 years.

Not only are personal histories represented but the physical churches are chronicled too. There is a representation of the 1700's first meeting house, the 1800-1900's replacement church when the famed Good Samaritan painting was destroyed, to the present church, all presenting as a beacon for freedom in religion in Stoughton Center, and marked by a historic stone chosen by the Delgadillo family to be on their family block.

So many stories, so..o..o much spirit of love. As grandma said in the children story this morning:

"You don't need a quilt to remember for you.
You have all those names and stories inside you.
But a quilt is a good thing to have."


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