You noticed it right away when entering the sanctuary.

Five hundred pillows formed a mountain in front of the altar at Bethany Lutheran Church, Bainbridge Island, Wash., in February. More crammed the aisles. The pews. Obliterated the lectern. And even buried the grand piano.

The pillows were purchased by Bethany members for refugees resettling in the Pacific Northwest during this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. The idea came from Paul Stumme-Diers, pastor of Bethany, as a way to draw attention to the need for refugee assistance.

“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow? And I found a great deal on pillows at a local retailer,” he said. “What a fitting way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and of the ministry of Jesus, who associated with outsiders, Samaritans and lepers, and who himself was a refugee as an infant.”

Soon, Bethany and all its pillows were splashed across the front pages of the two local newspapers. Congregants tossed them in the air as they were blessed. Then, armload by armload, crews ferried the bulky items out the door and on their way to Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest, which provides services for refugees.

“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow?”

Last year, Bethany members gathered hundreds of household items left over from a large Rotary Club auction. Those couches, pans, lamps and tables furnished 12 apartments for refugees, most in the greater Seattle area, through LCS Northwest. Several local churches joined the effort.

Prior to gathering the pillows, Bethany and other local congregations assembled 53 welcome kits for refugees, each containing items a family would need for a particular room, such as a kitchen.

From there, the small congregation’s heart for refugees grew. In March a Bethany variety show netted $6,000 for LCS Northwest’s refugee resettlement work. A bike ride, including stops at five local ELCA churches, is planned for August, with a goal of raising $10,000 for refugee assistance. And additional efforts are expected.

“We are continuing with the kits, and we are focused on linens and pillowcases this year. We are also gearing up for another round of Rotary auction support,” said Bethany member Dick Heine, who spearheaded much of the project. The congregation will “march forward, trusting that incoming refugees and refugees already here will continue to be needing additional support,” he said.

Rachel Pritchett
Rachel Pritchett is a retired newspaper journalist and a member of Bethany Lutheran Church of Bainbridge Island, Wash.

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