How To Mend A Broken Heart

September 8, 2017

Written by: Edd Conboy

Five years ago Barbara Lappen was at her home church, Swarthmore Presbyterian, attending a presentation about Broad Street Ministry. She left that presentation with a question: What could I do to support this important work? The answer came to her quickly. She said, Well, I know how to sew.

The next week she went to BSM for a tour and to see what services were being offered. And then she did something very Barb-like. She sat down in the dining room and met with guests. She asked them about mending, and one guest responded, “What’s mending?” Then another guest opened his jacket. The lining was ripped top to bottom, and he said, “You mean like this?” And Barb said, “Like that.”

Later that day she met with Erika Funk, the Associate Pastor at the time, and pitched her idea of starting a spiritual practice of mending. Erika loved the idea because it emerged from Barb’s encounter with guests, rather than a “good idea” from on high.

Realizing that this was not something she could, or would want to do alone, Barb invited eight women from her church to come to her house to talk about becoming Menders. All eight were enthusiastic about the idea. When the conversation came to financing this practice, one of the women took a twenty-dollar bill out of her purse, and put it on the coffee table to get things started. That funding campaign (plus a little extra from Barb) got them started with one good machine. That one and a few others from some grandmothers’ basements were all that was needed to launch The Menders.

For the first two years Menders came exclusively from Swarthmore Presbyterian. During that time other churches heard about it, and asked to join. The first one was Grace Presbyterian in Jenkintown, and then several women from Overbrook Presbyterian joined the ranks as well. All told there have been 30 Menders who have donated their time and talent to BSM, and currently they come every Thursday (except for Holy Thursday) four of them at a time.

When Barb was asked: Why do you all do this, week after week? She responded immediately, Because it brings something out in us. The Menders are caring people helping guests do better in life. One day recently she was walking to the train station after an afternoon of mending. She said to her companion, Boy, I’m tired. But it’s a good tired!

During these past five years, The Menders have not asked for any financial help (and they don’t intend to). But support comes anyway. Not long ago, Helen Cunningham, who recently retired from her post as president of the Fels Fund, decided to put on a mending apron and get back to work. One day Helen told a friend about her new mending gig, and unsolicited he sent her a $100 bill. And then another, and another. Now the Menders have four heavy-duty Singer sewing machines.

Barb went on to say more in response to the why question. The mending makes us feel good, feel needed, she said, adding, This is the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with anything churchy. She then thought for a few seconds and said, “It’s not about church. It’s about caring which in turn is about church.”

Guests say that they most appreciate the same day service. For them living on the margins often means waiting for services. In Barb’s words, “These people wait for everything.” And they don’t just mend garments. They are just as deft at using duct tape to repair a torn backpack, as they are with a needle and thread sewing on a button.

One time a guest came to Barb and asked her if she could mend a broken heart. With a tear in her eye, she quietly said, “No, that’s one thing we can’t mend.” Actually Barb may be wrong about that. Since they began their spiritual practice of mending five years ago, they have mended more than three thousand garments and bags. It is quite likely that a few broken hearts were mended along the way.