It was during a Christmas Eve service that a surprise gift was given to the Rev. David Ruth at the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in Kingstree. It was a stole, but it was nothing like any of the other ceremonial sashes he owns.

Ruth probably has about 25 different stoles that customarily are worn during different seasons of the church calendar. It's not unusual for ministers to receive stoles as gifts. They're practical, functional and appreciated clergy attire. One of Ruth's ministerial friends died recently and the deceased minister's wife even offered some stoles. Ruth was happy and honored to receive them.

But the stole given on Christmas Eve was different than any of those. This stole was pieced together by quilting members of the church and was created from dozens of ties.

Believe it or knot

Ties were collected from Ruth's dad, son, deceased father-in-law and brother. There's one from Duke (where he attended seminary) and another from a fraternity brother who bought a tie to donate because he didn't own one. Some men from the congregation pitched in a few ties. A Jewish car dealer who once employed Ruth in North Carolina also contributed to the cause.

Every piece of this stole contains a swath of cloth that connects the giver to the pastor. Perhaps it's not quite as colorful as Joseph's coat in the Bible, but it's vibrant enough to probably keep anybody from falling asleep most Sunday mornings.

The dark thread stitching is the most understated part of the creation. Those needles were held by hands that pulled all those patches and swatches together with patience and love.

In 2000, Ruth entered Duke Divinity School on his 41st birthday and was one of the older students in seminary. For 27 years, he had been a banker, stockbroker and an automobile salesman. A wife and three children were wondering what in the world dear old dad was doing.

When Ruth first told his wife, Eva, about his calling, they were sitting beside a lake. She wasn't sure whether to throw him in the lake or jump in it herself. A picture of that lake now hangs in his office.

Clerical connection

Ruth is now in his seventh year at the Kingstree church. His wife and son are now also ministers. As a matter of fact, Eva is the part-time pastor at nearby Lake City Presbyterian. They don't read each other's sermons, but for one Sunday soon, they might just swap pulpits.

He really likes this new stole and has worn it regularly, even though there are other more color-appropriate ones for the current church season.

He feels like it connects him to his community and in a small town, that connection means everything.

Ruth wore the stole while conducting a funeral recently for a 7-year-old boy who died of leukemia. It might have seemed too bright for such a sad moment, but it also wrapped the minister and the congregation with strength and peace.

Clerical sashes are made in all shapes and sizes. Some might display symbols: a cross, a dove, an angel. Others may be elegantly constructed of the finest satin.

The one that hangs around the minister's neck in Kingstree might just be one of a kind. It contains simple pieces of cloth of all different stripes, shapes and colors. They're stitched together in such a manner that highlights no individual tie. When all the colors work together, though, it's a striking finished product that tightly binds an entire community.

Reach Warren Peper @ 937-5577 or wpeper@postandcourier.com.