Martha Estes, United Thank Offering (UTO) coordinator for the Diocese of Los Angeles on June 24 unveiled a new UTO banner in San Juan Capistrano—just in time for the July 8 – 17 Episcopal Church Women (ECW) Triennial gathering in Anaheim.

Joining Estes were diocesan ECW president Kay Alexander along with Janet Rodriguez, a parishioner at St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church and School, who created the banner.

“It represents the Diocese of Los Angeles, part of the city of angels, very well, especially our diversity,” Estes said about the banner. “We feel so blessed (to have) this beautiful piece of artwork that will be around for many generations to be enjoyed at the Cathedral Center,” she added.

The blue and white banner is about 45 inches x 3 feet and depicts the UTO symbol as an angel lifting her arms up to the sky, with five feathers on each side to represent the diocese’s ten deaneries, Rodriguez said. It features a variety of materials, including velvet, velveteen, raw silk, satin, wool and yarn with gold metallic thread and tassels Rodriguez found during a trip to Spain.

Rodriguez, a self-taught embroiderer well-known for her detailed needlework, hand-stitched the borders. The banner’s beading represents “the churches involved with UTO and the beads I selected were really colorful and ethnic to include the diversity of the people involved in UTO and the programs they provide for others,” she said.

“It was my pleasure to do it,” said Rodriguez, about creating the banner from a sketch provided by Estes. Rodriguez said she considers her needlework “my ministry and this is giving back. It’s a gift God gave me and to use it for him is a nice way to give him my thanks.”

Giving thanks is what UTO is all about, added Estes, who has served as diocesan coordinator since 2007 and will be installed as UTO provincial representative at Triennial. In that role she will interact with all the dioceses in Province VIII, assisting coordinators with grant requests, supplies and speaking engagements. She succeeds Lynn Headley, a lay leader at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Corona del Mar.

The first UTO was held in 1889, as part of the missionary efforts of the Women’s Auxiliary to the Board of Mission, authorized by General Convention in 1871. Julia Emery, secretary to the Women’s Auxiliary, and Ida Soule, who counted the missionary offering of the 1886 Triennial meeting of Women, inspired women to pray and give coins with the idea of building a new church in Anvik, Alaska, as well as sending Lisa Lowell as a missionary to Japan. In that year, the offering reached $2,188.64.

The UTO coordinates ingatherings of those donations twice each year, in the spring and fall. “The idea is to say a prayer each day in thanksgiving and at the same time, put a coin in your UTO box. It’s a very simple thing,” Estes said.

The coins add up, to the tune of more than $2 million to be awarded in grants at the Triennial, which will help others around the world, she said. Since 1995, the Los Angeles diocese has received 14 grants. Past grants have gone to St. Peter’s, San Pedro, to help homeless women; an expansion of the Interfaith Resettlement and Immigration Service; and to Church of Our Savior for a diabetic wellness program in El Monte.

In 2009, the agency received 138 grant applications and recommended 63, totaling $2,037,303.15, to be voted on during the Triennial gathering. Among those is an application for PRISM, the diocesan restorative justice ministry, which provides chaplaincy services for county hospitals and jails.

During a recent trip to Haiti Estes was able to witness the work done by a medical center grant applicant, as well as to see the fruit of those daily prayers of thanksgiving.

“Those prayers add up,” said Estes. “There were plaques in several buildings that I went to, saying they were built with help from the UTO. I’d have my pin on and people knew UTO, they knew who we were and how we help others. It was really gratifying. There is a huge respect out there for UTO,” she said.

“There aren’t enough prayers for thankfulness,” she added. “We always pray for what we want, for health issues and especially now, the economy. We forget that even in the struggle there are things to be thankful for. Everyone’s pennies can add up and help other people.”

Anyone interested, whether or not their congregation holds ingatherings, can contact Estes vis the diocesan website.

She hopes to have the new UTO banner blessed during the Triennial, possibly during the UTO ingathering, which is scheduled for the 10 a.m. Eucharist on July 12.