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Home : Community : Customer Gallery : The Mystery and Magic of the Shawl Ministry

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The Mystery and Magic of the Shawl Ministry
Created By: The Rev. Johnine Byrer

I learned about this ministry through the Star Ledger newspaper out of Newark, New Jersey. The first shawl, which went out, was given to a woman who had refused to talk to any of her friends after she found her 17 year old son dead in bed one morning. Her depression was so deep. Knowing this, her friend from our church called and left a message on her answering machine that she would be receiving something in the mail. Three days later the friend from church received a voice mail from the grieving Mother to call her. And of course, she did. They talked for over an hour, which was the first time the grieving Mother had reached out to anyone. When I heard this story, I knew that we were onto something life-transforming for both the recipient and the giver.

The women who knit and crochet have grown through the three years plus that we have had the Shawl Ministry in existence. We have easily given at least 300 hundred or more shawls to men, women, and children throughout the United States and even to Ireland. We meet twice a month as a group to "Knit and Chat".

My story takes a twist in the fact that I had an idea how we could extend our ministry into the world. As a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, I have a personal ministry in the world and that is Prison Ministry. So over a year ago, I approached the Superintendent of the only Women's Prison in New Jersey with the crazy idea of coming into the prison and having women crochet and knit with us. Unbelievably he said, "Yes!" Since November 20, 2006, five women and I have gone into the women's prison every Monday afternoon for two hours. The time with the women has been transforming for us all. We play CD's and talk and just be together, almost like the quilting bees of long ago.

The Assistant Superintendent liked our program so much that he asked me if we would go into the Maximum Security section of the prison and crochet with the women. So three weeks ago two women from our church began to go into "Maxx" and teach the eight women who were selected to come to crochet. Knitting needles are not allowed in here, too sharp. Many people have laughed at me that I am allowed to bring sharp objects into prison.

This week I was contacted by the Hunterdon County Hospice to ask if we could funnel shawls into their organization for their dying patients when we have some available. The answer was, "Of course!"

So our Shawl Ministry at Church of the Holy Spirit in Lebanon, NJ has taken us to places that we could never have anticipated. We have been truly blessed.

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