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Interview with Amy Mary Ries of Orthodox Christian Craft Supply

Today we interview Amy Mary Ries, the creative force behind Orthodox Christian Craft Supply, the online source for craft kits specifically for Orthodox Christians.

Sullivan: When you became involved in church crafts, can you tell us the setting? Were you in a parish program, or were you home schooling Christian Education for your children?

Amy: I’ve been involved with church crafts my entire life. I enjoyed them as a child and went on to use them as an adult teacher and volunteer. When we came to our parish as converts, I immediately got involved with children’s activities, since it is something I truly enjoy. We have one child in public school and two children who are homeschooled. Whether we school at home or take advantage of public and private school options, all Christian families homeschool, because we all live the Faith at home and teach it to our children. I try, then, to provide materials for all educational needs. Homeschoolers, families, schools, and parishes. Big groups or individuals. There’s something for everyone.Sullivan: Amy, I see that both of us are concerned that crafts for Orthodox Christian children be relevant and meaningful, and not just fun, although that too, hopefully! Can you tell us a little about how you came to be concerned about this? And I am assuming you got started producing your own crafts because what you found out there was not quite what you had hoped. Can you comment on your general impression of what was available, say ten or fifteen years ago for Orthodox-appropriate crafts?

Amy: We converted to Orthodoxy four years ago. Growing up Protestant, I was accustomed to having a seemingly endless supply of resources available aimed specifically at teaching children. I soon found that this was not the case in Orthodoxy. There are many resources available to Protestants and Catholics, but not so many for Orthodox Christians. From talking with longtime Orthodox, I believe that some of this comes from a fear that we will ultimately water down the Faith. I understand that fear, and I try always to be mindful of the responsibility I have to provide appropriate and respectful materials. I always strive to use words and holy images with reverence. Church crafts to me are not about being cute or catchy. It’s not about a punch line. These are intended to be appealing to a child’s sense of style, yet respectful of the divine subject matter. I think it’s definitely possible to be child-friendly without being disrespectful. Christ said that we all have to come to Him as little children. We all have to daily embrace God in the most basic ways. By simplifying the Faith through lessons and crafts, we are not watering down the message; rather we are respecting the children as fellow Christians on their own spiritual journey, and helping them to expand and deepen that journey. In the Orthodox Church, we do not separate our families during worship. From birth, our children are involved in the Sacraments and life of the Church just like anyone else. Providing them with a craft to help them understand a Feast of the church is another way of including them in the celebration and the body of Christ.

Sullivan: As someone who also has taken on this cause, I know how difficult it can be to come up with crafts to do that are related to the daily lessons, the liturgical seasons, or just Orthodoxy in general. Where have you found you ideas for the crafts you have- they are quite unique!

Amy: When designing crafts for a Feast, the first thing I do is look at the services prescribed for that day. The Old and New Testament Scripture readings. The hymns. The icons. I jot down a list of symbols and concepts that can be represented visually and are meaningful from a child’s point of view. I look for projects that can be easily assembled by a child with the help of an adult who is not craft-oriented, and does not have access to craft supplies. Most of the time, my kits only require you to provide glue and a paintbrush. Everything else is included. I try to write the instructions in plain language, not assuming that the person reading them has any experience whatsoever making crafts. If it’s an item that I sell specifically geared toward groups, I try to make it so that there will be the least amount of adult involvement required as possible. I might surf the internet for ideas or talk to family and friends, but mostly I just sit down with a pile of craft supplies and put things together until I come up with something that works. I spend a lot of time making mistakes and starting over, but eventually I settle on something that is reasonably priced, and, with God’s help, accurately displays the concept from an Orthodox point of view.

Sullivan: Many people in today’s economy have become entrepreneurs of a sort, but you don’t find too many in the area of religious education or crafts for church use. Can you tell us how and why you got interested in using your ideas to create a business?

Amy: By talking to people around the country and the world through my blog and online communities, I knew that there were others out there seeking the same things. There are many people searching for crafts and educational resources that have an Orthodox “look” and are true to our theology. After hearing positive feedback about ideas that I shared on my blog, I began to think that I could make a business out of this. We were struggling financially at the time, since my husband was unemployed. We felt that Orthodox Christian Craft Supply would be a way for our whole family to work together at a home-based business. It has been a blessing for every member of our family.

Sullivan: Do you find your online business to also be a ministry in the Church? I can see that it might be…

Amy: This business has created an opportunity for me to work from home and work on something involving my Faith. More than a moneymaker, it is a ministry to me. When I meet and talk with families who are using my materials, I am humbled and awed to see how God reveals Himself to us, as much as we are able to bear, using everything around us- from the awesome beauties of nature to the simplicity of glitter and glue. God is everywhere, and the people who see that the most are the children…and those who look at the world like them. Whenever I explore a Scripture or Feast or the life of a Saint with a child, I never feel like I’m teaching them. Rather, when I see God through their eyes, I realize that they are in fact the ones teaching me. God willing, I hope to provide a service to my brothers and sisters in Christ as we all learn how to come to Christ as a little child.

Catherine Sullivan July 2011