NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — The knitted scarves accumulating at Bethel College Mennonite Church were not abandoned there because of rising temperatures. Instead, they are illustrating them.
Featuring a row of yarn representing the high temperature for every day in a year, the seven “tempestries” are temperature tapestries depicting how the climate has changed in roughly two-decade increments since the church started in 1897.
“So much of climate issues is doom and gloom. It’s serious stuff, but this is a fun way of engaging it,” said David Kreider, a member of the congregation’s creation care and visual arts committees. “. . . This is just a way to help people think about it.”
The woven charts measure roughly 4 feet long by 10 inches across and are made from kits purchased from The Tempestry Project. The organization divides 25 colors across narrow temperature ranges and then calculates how much of each color yarn a knitter will need to create a tempestry for a specific location.
“Mine was 22 colors because I didn’t have the hottest or coldest days,” said Lenore Waltner.
Fellow knitter Marilyn Harrold said there can be so much starting with different pieces of yarn, it was exciting to have three or four rows of the same color.
“It takes more time to cut and knot afterward than it does to knit,” she said.
The congregation purchased kits for $70 each, and more expensive premium versions are also available.
Kreider will apply skills used in his job as a technician at Kauffman Museum to install the tempestries in the church’s lobby in mid-April.
He originally encountered the tempestry concept at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Mo.
The Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., brought tempestries to hang in the organization’s booth.
CSCS director Doug Graber Neufeld said a knitting group on the EMU campus made several tempestries about a year ago to illustrate temperatures in countries visited by students on cross-cultural experiences.
“It’s so visual, it appeals to so many different senses,” he said. “When you see the patterns of colors there’s a visceral reaction. You can see it going from greens and blues to oranges and reds, especially in the last 10 or 20 years.”
He hopes CSCS can create more tempestries to illustrate different aspects of climate change. Different seasons can show different concepts, such as warming trends being more apparent in winter than summer.
“We would be happy to see this expand. It feels like something that’s very Mennonite,” Graber Neufeld said. “Mennonites are great at textiles, and the first thing I thought of with this was Mennonites sitting around knitting.”
Kreider agreed that the project brings together multiple Anabaptist interests.
“We care about these issues. It’s relevant for people of faith to care about the created world,” he said.
Bethel College Mennonite’s creation care committee is challenging the congregation to undertake sustainable action, from not eating meat one day a week to eliminating plastic bags from shopping to evaluating energy use at home.
“Each month they’ve been highlighting different challenges, so this Tempestry Project really fits with the year of sustainable climate solutions,” Kreider said.