Campus Minister Bringing 108 Handmade ‘Friendship Dolls’ to Japan

July 18, 2019

Nancy McCormick: ‘These symbols represent peace, hope, new life and power over evil’

Nancy McCormick’s plan for making rag dolls with friends to send to Japan has blossomed into something much greater. It’s become a journey, she believes, ordained by providence.

PICTURED: Nancy McCormick, Wilmington College’s campus minister, sits with the 108 Japanese Friendship Dolls she will be taking to Japan in early August.

McCormick, Wilmington College’s campus minister, is bringing 108 handmade dolls to Japan later this month when WC colleague Tanya Maus returns a cross that survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki to a Catholic church some 74 years after that catastrophic event.

“These symbols — the dolls for children and returning the cross — represent peace, hope, new life and power over evil,” she said. “There’s something much bigger here than simply the cross, the dolls, Tanya or me.

“When I was a younger person, I thought I knew who God was, but as I’m older, I’m blown away with the mystery of God,” she added. “Never in a million years did I ever think I’d go to Japan — especially carrying two suitcases of dolls and a cross in a guitar case!”

The cross has been part of the collection at WC’s Peace Resource Center since 1982. When Maus, the director of the center, realized how moved visitors from Japan were upon learning the origins of the cross, she felt it was important to return it to the rebuilt Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki

Maus invited McCormick to join her on the sojourn to Japan so the campus minister could personally deliver the dolls to elementary schools in Hirado and Nagasaki. They will participate in the annual Atomic Bomb Victims’ Memorial Peace Prayer Ceremony in Nagasaki on Aug. 7, the 74th anniversary of that city’s atomic bombing.

“My life has been so touched by the story of this cross,” McCormick said, noting she expects the handing over of the cross to the archbishop, the prayer ceremony and presenting the dolls to schoolchildren all will be exceptionally moving and meaningful.

The story of the 1927 Friendship Doll Exchange headed by the United Council of Churches with participation from Wilmington College and local Quakers inspired her to consider the doll project. The Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center at the College featured some of those historic dolls, including one from WC known as “Ellen C,” in a 2010 exhibit.

“I thought I’d get people together — in community — and make these dolls and send them to Japan,” McCormick said, noting that such an activity provides a setting for gaining a deeper knowledge of one another. “Stories start erupting. You think you know people, then you hear their stories of tragedy and grief, joy and celebration — surrounded by the innocence of the dolls.”

The 100-plus dolls feature the efforts of numerous persons — ages six through early 80s — including McCormick and her sisters in Massachusetts and Iowa, local Girl Scouts, Wilmington Friends Meeting, Chester Friends, Xenia Friends, Springfield Friends, Cincinnati Eastern Hills Friends and other community members who gathered for doll-making sessions at Papsy’s Place and The Cotton Junkie in downtown Wilmington.

“Some were better at making clothes and others making hair, while children often stuffed the dolls,” she added. “Many different people felt a leading to do something.”

Going to Japan takes on added meaning for McCormick regarding her family. Before she was born, she lost an uncle serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

“My mom could not forgive the Japanese,” she said. “When we would talk about Japanese culture, she couldn’t understand my interest in it – she thought I was naïve. I wasn’t of that generation who lived through those atrocities of war committed on both sides.

“But we need to be over it ‑ and let God’s love heal our brokenness as we build bridges of peace, hope and love.”