The needlepoint altar rail cushions at St. Francis Episcopal Church were consecrated on December 7, 1980. Each of the cushions is totally covered with needlepoint. In 1974, a needlepoint committee was formed with Bitty Crain as president. Other members were Martha Bernhardt, Mary Ann Bower, and Pood Wheeler. After much research Jean Ready, a designer with The Establishment in Austin, was chosen in 1976 to design the kneelers. The final sketches were approved by the St. Francis vestry and the Women of the Church in January, 1978. The nine ladies chosen to produce the kneelers were Linda Bates, Virginia Hardy, Bitty Crain, Martha Bernhardt, Mary Ann Bower, Margaret Scarborough, Jo Clark, Lucy Dodson, and Cynthia Buttram. Beginning in November of 1978, the Needlepoint Guild met twice each month to work together. The guild also purchased a wedding kneeler, which was worked by Alice Louise Nathan. All of the stitching on the kneelers was completed by March, 1980. (An interesting aside for the mathematically inclined is the fact that, at 196 stitches per square inch on 14-count canvas, a total of 153,664 stitches were required to complete each of the kneelers. At an average of 18 stitches per minute, it required a total of 142 hours of actual stitching time per kneeler, not allowing time to end a thread or re-thread the needle.) The Spinning Wheel in Houston was chosen to block the needlepoint and upholster the kneelers. Funds for the project came from the Women of the Church through the James Avery Jewelry Shop, from the Improvement Guild of St. Francis, and from individual gifts.
The subject of the cushions begins at either end of the communion rail with the progression of the Gospel or the Life of Christ moving toward the center of the altar. The center cushion depicts the Crucifixion, the Empty Tomb or Resurrection and the Ascension. All scenes on the cushions are Biblically correct.
Joseph’s Dream and the Savior is Born – The first cushion depicts Joseph’s Dream, Matthew 1: 18-25, and the Birth of Jesus and the Visit of the Shepherds, Luke 2: 1-20.
The Savior is Presented in the Temple – The second cushion shows Jesus Presented in the Temple, Luke 2: 22-35; the Flight into Egypt, Matthew 2: 13-15; and Jesus Among the Doctors of the Law, Luke 2: 41-50.
Jesus is Baptized and the Savior is Revealed – The third cushion shows the scene in which Jesus is Baptized, Luke 3: 21-22; the Savior of the World Revealed to the Samaritans or the Women at the Well, John 4: 1-42; and the Wedding of Cana of Galilee, John 2: 1-12.
Zacchaeus, The Arrest and Peter’s Denial – The fourth cushion depicts Zacchaeus, Luke 19: 1-10; The Arrest, John 18: 1-11; and Peter’s Denial, Luke 22: 54-62.
The Crucifixion, The Empty Tomb, The Ascension – The fifth cushion, which lies in the center, shows the Crucifixion, Luke 23: 33-34; The Ascension, Luke 24: 50-53; and The Empty Tomb, Matthew 28: 1-8.
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane and Endures Calvary – The sixth cushion depicts the Way to Calvary, Luke 23: 26-30; Jesus Crowned with Thorns, Matthew 27: 27-31; and the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14: 32-42.
The Last Supper, The Calming of the Storm – On the seventh cushion, appears The Last Supper, John 13: 1-20; The Calming of the Storm, Mark 4: 35-41.
The Loaves and Fishes, Calling the Disciples – The eighth cushion includes Loaves and Fishes, John 2: 13-25; The Calling of the Disciples, Luke 5: 1-11 and Matthew 4: 18-22; and the Flight from Egypt, Matthew 2: 19-23.
Visit of the Magi, The Annunciation – The ninth cushion shows the Visit of the Magi, Matthew 2: 1-12; and The Annunciation, Luke 1: 26-38.