This is an imagined interview comprised of questions I am often asked. I am a little reluctant to do this, but I am told there are some people who find this kind of thing interesting.
How did you get started making clergy stoles?
This is a complicated answer. In my 30s I was exploring God’s calling. I really felt Him calling me to something, and I really wanted to be obedient. I was misled in the direction of pastoral ministry for a while, and explored that through lay-pastor training through the PC(USA). It was that exploration that had the greatest effect on my interest in stoles. First, because I found myself imagining what kind of stoles I would wear if I actually became ordained. Second, because I was studying the meaning and significance of liturgy. I had grown up in a non-liturgical tradition, and had first experienced liturgical worship as a young adult. I was uncomfortable with it at first, but once I understood what was going on, I came to love it.
By 2006, I was beginning to realize that there was really something wrong with me. I had dealt with chronic pain since I was 11, but it was becoming debilitating. I was also noticing patterns of serious emotional issues in relationships, particularly with authority figures, such as employers. I was soon diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which explained the chronic pain, and gave me the information I needed to pursue a path of improving health through natural treatments. However, I still did not understand fully my emotional issues. I came to realize that self-employment was the only way I would be able to have the flexibility I needed for my physical health and the distance from authority figures that I needed for my emotional well-being. The other thing I recognized was that not working was not an option, not primarily for financial reasons, but because meaningful work had to be a part of coping and healing. It was not until 2013 that I was diagnosed with PTSD from chronic childhood trauma. I have gone a long way toward healing since then, but I still minimize contact with authority figures.
What background did you have for a liturgical art ministry?
The lay-pastor training I received, mostly in online continuing education classes through University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, was crucial. Although it became clear that pastoral ministry was NOT my calling, I do not regret those class hours. Not only did they give me the theological background for liturgical art, they really helped me think through some theological “traps” I found myself in.
I had been sewing since I was 6 years old, and had been sewing professionally, on and off for ten years already, so that gave me the self-employment experience. I had already discovered a love and talent for rendering my own applique designs on items for my children.
For about a year before I really got started with the stoles, I just felt the Holy Spirit saying, “Use what you have.” I see now how God used all of these experiences to fulfill in me the purpose for which I was designed.
What were some challenges you faced as you were getting started?
Just figuring out what works, from fabric choices to how to get the best photographs. There was so much to learn.
Was your family supportive?
Absolutely. I have a better husband, son and daughter than I deserve, and they have always been supportive of just about every crazy idea I have had, for better or worse. They have all participated in production and other aspects of the ministry at times. My brother and sister, mom and dad were also pretty encouraging.
How old were your kids when you started?
My son was 9 and my daughter was 17. Now my daughter has her third child on the way, and my son is engaged to be married in a year.
Your first stole sold on eBay in 2008 - when did you get your own website?
I was on eBay for a couple of years, and then switched to Etsy.com in 2011 at a point when there were a few other sellers offering handmade stoles. Etsy was not well known, but was doing a great job of advertising and pulling in business. It worked out well for me until about 2014. I needed a way to offer more options and also have a place where I could give more information about stoles. There was also a lot more competition on Etsy. Competition is a good thing, but the clergy stole market on Etsy has become cluttered and overwhelming. I still have a presence on Etsy, but my main venue is my website.
What are the challenges you face now?
Maintaining the website is probably the most challenging. I have really had to push myself in keeping up with changes in how search engines operate, so that I can be found. Webmaster is not my first calling or my first love. I would really rather be sewing!
You are completing a decade of liturgical art ministry. Where do you go from here?
When I had been doing this for about a year, I remember telling my mom I thought I would only be able to do it about ten years because of the fibromyalgia. She laughed at that, and I understand why. To her I was still pretty young, but the physical challenges were real. My health is so much better now than it was, but I AM 10 years older now. I plan to keep working as long as possible, and I hope I have another 10 years at least.
The Holy Spirit was whispering “use what you have” when I started; the message now is similar. I have to confess that I am tempted toward a little envy when I see the work of certain other liturgical artists, but I am reminded by the apostle Paul that we are not all given the same gifts, or to the same degree, but it is the same Spirit who works in us. I hear the Spirit telling me “Do the art I created you to do.” So I have been thinking a lot about the aspects of my work that are unique, and I will be looking for ways to build on that in new designs or updating old ones.
Thanks for sharing your story. Six years ago, I was ordained in one of your stoles and it is still my favorite one. I love your work, and I love the "spirit" in it!
Thank you, Paula, for taking the time to share your thoughts!