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Paula Sanders: COLA executive coordinator

Master seamstress sews together details of 219th General Assembly

May 6, 2010

—The Rev. Paula Sanders

Minneapolis

"The opening service July 4 at the Minneapolis Convention Center will be 8,000 worshippers strong," said the Rev. Paula Sanders, and it will demonstrate "the best of being Presbyterian — a liturgically correct service that is creative and inclusive."

Sanders, executive coordinator of the Committee on Local Arrangement (COLA) for the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is gearing up for the influx of Presbyterians due in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area July 3-10 for the denomination's 219 General Assembly.

Sanders is working to stitch together details that will make their visit a spirit-filled memory.

"I'm especially excited about the Moderator's Reception set for Sunday evening on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis," Sanders said. "Presbyterians from all over the country will be at the reception and picnic dinner. Bring your kids" she said, "and introduce them to their larger Presbyterian family."

Sanders is a master seamstress who takes her cues from the one who has stitched together the fabric of her life.

Born into a Roman Catholic family in Decatur, Ill., Sanders spent 20 years of her adult life unchurched. During that period she became a successful business owner, an event planner, an academician as well as a victim of domestic violence. She still suffers from injuries sustained at the hand of an abusive former mate.

The fabric of her life shifted unexpectedly when Sanders met the Rev. Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Kwanzaa Community Church, an African American Presbyterian congregation in North Minneapolis. The relationship began when Galloway asked Sanders to create a wardrobe for her.

"Alika saw something in me and was determined to draw out my story," Sanders said. The time they spent together led Galloway to invite Sanders to visit Kwanzaa.

She attended the church once, then again. Eventually she became a member of the church. "The people of Kwanzaa love me back to health," she said.

Over time Sanders and Galloway worked together to raise funds to cover Kwanzaa’s many community engagement ministries.

When Sanders received her Master of Divinity degree, she was called as executive and artistic director of the Lydia Women's Empowerment Project. The Lydia Project, founded by Sanders, engages women primarily of urban North Minneapolis in spiritual and family development, and social change and economic empowerment.

The women of the Lydia Project run their own business designing and constructing liturgical textiles. Most of the women come to the Lydia Project with no sewing skills and are soon earning a supplemental income, Sanders said.

Sanders believes it is the combination of her talent, learned skills and the Holy Spirit that led to her position as COLA's executive coordinator. Her passion for the position is contagious.

Tours planned for visitors attending the General Assembly include a Mississippi River canoe trip and a paddle boat ride on the St. Croix River to study Presbyterian history. Tours are also scheduled to the Science Museum of Minnesota where visitors will be able to see the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The river trips are in keeping with the General Assembly's theme, "Rivers of Living Water."

"I love water and I love Minnesota," Sanders said. "The committee and I look forward to offering a ministry of hospitality to our General Assembly guests."

Perhaps Sanders is a water weaver too.

The Rev. Theresa Roos is pastor of First United Presbyterian Church, Farmington, Minn.

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