By Wendy Gustafson
In the 1980s, Diane Beaufoy and the Episcopal Church Women at St. Barnabas started an outreach project meant to bring the spirit of St. Barnabas to the wider community. We didn’t have a church building in those days. We were actually in and part of the wider community, borrowing space for worship and work from anyone who would have us. Wandering in the wilderness gave us a chance to see where we could serve. Barney Bears made connection with people an easy goal to accomplish. St. Barnabas himself worked in the wider world, traveling with St. Paul and bringing the Gospel to people like you and me. His namesake Bears do the same.
Photo provided by Wendy Gustafson
These simple bears, made in fellowship by the women of the church, bring the message that someone cares for you in your current situation, whatever that may be. They are the encouraging word that someone is near, that God is near, and you are not being overlooked.
They were first given to firefighters and police to carry with them on their runs. In times of trauma, sometimes you just need a bear. Our first responders now have Barney Bears on board.
It is not just recipients of Barney Bears who feel the power of their encouragement. Lives are shared and friendships made and deepened at the Barney Bear sewing bees that produce these huggable evangelists. Anyone can help make Barney Bears. You don’t have to know how to sew to help in their construction. There is cutting, trimming, turning, and stuffing to do. The sewing part is just a tiny piece of this production line.
Having supplied our local fire houses and police stations with all the Bears they could carry, I was on the lookout for another venue for their work. The campus shop at Twin Lakes is now a partner in our encouragement effort. The money generated from the sale of Barney Bears goes into the Benevolent Care Fund at Twin Lakes, which ensures residents of Twin Lakes who have outlived their personal financial resources may continue to live there.
Encouragement is a funny thing. It doesn’t take much effort to give it, but it does take some attention. It takes sincerity and truth. It takes pouncing on the opportunity to give the good word, the smile, the thanks, the Bear.
Interested in working on Barney Bears? Please contact the church office at (513) 984-8401 if you'd like more information.