Not unlike Corduroy in the beloved children’s book of the same name, the Cannon UMC Prayer Bearers are ministers in miniature. These handmade, multi-colored, adorable and cuddly bears are sent out into the world to bring comfort to those who need it at the most vulnerable of times. For cancer patients, hope is found in many forms, but having something to hug can bring a different type of hope, something simple and innocent.. a teddy bear.
Founded in 2002 by Carole Shepherd, a cancer survivor herself, the Prayer Bearers are a product of the loving hands and blessings of the cancer ministry at Cannon United Methodist Church in Snellville. The first year, Carole had plans to make 100-200 bears to be given to area children’s hospitals as a means to show her gratitude for having survived cancer. As often comes of a plan to minister, God had bigger plans for the Prayer Bearers. By the end of the first year, over 1000 bears had been made and delivered.
The group refers to their leader as “Momma Bear” and more than one person has fulfilled this role. Currently, Jan King serves as the “Momma Bear” and facilitates donations, workshops and the annual fundraiser that is lovingly referred to as “Adoption”. “We arrange the bears in the sanctuary and they are prayed over and blessed,” says Jan. “People can obtain a certificate and either take their bear with them to give to someone who needs it or they can allow us to take the bear to the hospital.” Either way, a nominal $20-$25 donation is used for materials to keep the bears in production. “The polyfil is the most expensive item,” says Jan. “We get material on sale and several people watch for those opportunities.” The different materials really make each bear unique. There are colleges represented, holidays and all sorts of interesting patterns. This year’s “Adoption” will take place on Sunday, November 23rd at Cannon UMC.
The bears themselves are the “bearers” of prayers for the returned health of those who have become ill and come with a prayer that was written by one of the wonderful women who bring these creatures to “life”. Diane Cline describes the process by which the Prayer Bearer Prayer was “scribed”. “I was taking a walk one day and the words just worked themselves into my thoughts,” says Cline. “It really just wrote itself.” The prayer may be found at http://www.cannoncancerministry.org, but includes the words:
Lord, may this bear be an instrument of Your peace. May this bear be a blessing to the person who receives it. May this bear bring hope to someone who has given up on hope… May this bear bring the love of the people who had a part in making it…
It is very evident that lots of love goes into making each bear. The basement room that serves the ministry looked a bit like Santa’s workshop with many elves sipping coffee, chatting and having a taste of homemade coffee cake while their fingers stitched away closing up the stuffed bears, adding smiling faces and cutting patterns for future projects. “We are approaching 10,000 bears,” says Jan.
“Unfortunately, there will never not be a need; so we will continue to make them.” The bears are given to local children’s hospitals, Hospice, Ronald McDonald House, nursing homes and local hospitals. About once a month, one of the women from the “Bear Den” takes “Bear Skins” to a local assisted living facility where the residents place the stuffing and love into the bears. It takes many hands and a great deal of donated material to create the Prayer Bearers. “Any amount is important,” says Kathleen Torrance. “All of the people involved keep an eye out for a good bargain and they just grab it.”
“We have never had anyone refuse a bear,” says Jan. “From little children to grown men, the bears provide ‘something to hold onto’.” According to Kathleen, the bears have been carefully planned for “huggability.” “This size has been fully tested and found to be the perfect holdable size.”
Rows and rows of “holdable” bears line the “Bear Den” ready to be placed in a good home. Just like Corduroy, they have a mission in life and will wait patiently until their time to be held comes up. In the meantime… it seems like a few of them had a glint in their eyes…like maybe, just maybe, they climb down from those shelves at night and poke around the workshop to visit with one another and say a little prayer for each bearer’s very special mission.
To offer donations or learn more about the Cannon UMC Cancer Ministry: http://www.cannoncancerministry.org.