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Tent Makers Ministry to launch business to produce church, clergy-worn items

By Lynn Rumley
Special to the Salisbury Post
COOLEEMEE ó With the global export of traditional Carolina manufacturing jobs, many have wondered if there is any place left here for people with skilled hands. The financial crisis and recession have only made matters worse.
Now, a new Christian ministry has been launched to carve out a tiny piece of the global market for products made by local needlework artisans. It hopes to make a small difference in the community.
The Tent Makers Ministry has been created as a collaborative mission based at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in this former mill town. It is akin to a co-op ó for producers and consumers of church textiles and garments.
“St. Paul was a tent maker,’ says parish priest Fred Clarkson, “and this ministry will forgo its profit so that the community can make a living.”The idea is simple. Local seamstresses or tailors will produce items used for churches and clergy-worn items, such as stoles and vestments as well as alter cloths. “There is actually a large national market for such textiles. They must be well-made and some can be very expensive,” says Clarkson.
Sewers will pay a nominal fee to become producing members, dues that can be paid over time. In turn, they receive training and get their materials at cost, purchased wholesale by the cooperative project. Producers will receive a minimum of 60 percent of the item’s sales price. The remainder will go for material costs, operating the ministry and to local participating churches.
Churches or individuals purchasing these textile products will receive a 10 percent discount off the retail price if they become members.
The ministry is a collaborative with St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Salisbury, where several members are already involved. On its board of directors are also clergy from other Rowan County churches including Christ Church in Cleveland, Gloria Dei Lutheran, Lebanon Lutheran, Third Creek Presbyterian and a representative of the producer-members.
Orders have already started coming in and the Tent Makers Ministry will soon be setting up its own Web site ó www.CooleemeeWorks.com ó for Internet orders. If it is successful, Clarkson believes the ministry might consider producing other items made by local artisans.
Right now, the ministry is looking for sewers with the skill-sets of seamstresses and tailors as well as skilled embroiderers. Members also are looking for donations of industrial-strength sewing machines, sergers, button-holers and label tackers.
Many can remember when over a half dozen sewing rooms employed hundreds in Mocksville and more in Rowan County. Such large-scale industrial sewing production found it impossible to compete with cheap foreign labor and are nearly all closed. Clarkson believes this focused-market approach will find its niche. He cites coffee cooperatives in South America that pay farmers a living wage and micro-financed small businesses in many poorer countries.
“Our goal is to produce locally, nurture the local economy and remind people that the purpose of an economy is not blind growth or excessive profit but to provide a way for people to make a living,” he said.
Since moving to Cooleemee a year ago, Clarkson has been impressed by stories about how the local rural economy used to be based on honest face-to-face relationships and cooperation between neighbors.
“Business practices must be sound to succeed, but an economy based solely on ‘the bottom line’ can decimate lives and local economies,” he said. “This is one thing we’ve learned from the global economic crisis.”
If you have sewing skills and would like to participate as a producer the Tentmakers Ministry or if you have industrial-grade sewing equipment to donate, contact the Rev. Fred Clarkson at 704-245-5805. Other local churches and clergy are also invited to participate.

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