My interest in making prayer shawls began with an article in the Southern Ohio Episcopal Diocesan newspaper, The Interchange. It described a ministry in progress in an area church, and gave a link to the www.shawlministry.com website. Although I am not an experienced knitter, I loved the concept and decided to give it a try. I hadn’t really thought about how or to whom the shawl would be given, but I knew the Lord would take care of that part.
As I knit the shawl, I realized that one person in our church would be a perfect conduit to distribute the shawls. The deacon at our Episcopal Church actively counsels people who are very ill or grieving after the death of a loved one. As I neared completion of my first shawl, I approached him about the project. Although he had not yet read the article, he was elated at the idea. A week later, I gave him the finished shawl and a note I had written to the recipient. He presented it to a woman in our congregation that day. She was visibly moved that someone would give her a shawl, a comforting reminder that the thoughts and prayers of the congregation were with her during those difficult times. The shawl ministry at St. Mark’s was born.
Seeing that the first shawl had been so well received, I decided to make more. I discovered that I had quite a bit of time to knit during my teenagers’ sporting events, band concerts, and various meetings. Knitting allowed me to be productive when I otherwise would have been merely a spectator. I also enjoyed knitting quietly at home, when I could concentrate on my many blessings and pray for healing and comfort for the ultimate recipient of the shawl.
I had intended to remain anonymous through the ministry. I didn’t want anyone besides our deacon to know who was knitting the shawls, and I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to know who was receiving them. As more were made and distributed, however, other people expressed an interest in making shawls also. Although I was to be moving away from Ohio within 6 months, the deacon asked me to start a shawl ministry at our church. My knitting was no longer an anonymous ministry.
I left Ohio in August, but the group of about 10 knitters continues to meet monthly after church. Many are just learning to knit, but the enthusiasm for the ministry is strong. The group purchased silver lion charms (the symbol of St. Mark) to attach to the fringe to commemorate the church that made the shawls. Approximately 30 shawls have been distributed to people in the parish as well as to friends, community members, and people in hospice care that our deacon has counseled. He keeps a book recording the names of the people who have lovingly made shawls, and the people to whom shawls have been distributed.
Besides the recipients, some of whom are now making shawls themselves, the person who has been most touched by the ministry is our deacon. He says a special prayer over each shawl before he presents it to the recipient, and he continues to be moved by the gratitude each person expresses when he/she receives the shawl and the prayers that go along with it. Our deacon sees the shawl as a powerful symbol of God’s love surrounding the recipient – a warm, soft touch wrapping the person up in His love and care. Presenting shawls has added another dimension to his ministry, and has helped reassure him that the Lord is indeed calling him to become a bereavement counselor.
My prayer shawl ministry has now moved across the country to the desert of Southern California, where my husband is currently stationed at Edwards Air Force Base. This is a difficult place to live. It is an isolated base with a harsh climate, and many people here are far from family. Soon after I arrived, I spoke with the head chaplain about the shawl ministry, and to date he and the other base chaplains have distributed 6 shawls. So far no one else is knitting them with me, but I intend to continue knitting because I am convinced that this worthwhile ministry is especially important here.
I never know when I might meet someone who would be interested in making shawls, so I usually carry a copy of the instructions with me in my knitting bag to give away. Many people ask about the shawls and the yarn (my favorite is Lion Brand Homespun, especially the variegated colors), and I am always glad to provide a copy of the instructions. I just hope some of the people to whom I have given instructions have gone on and started their own shawl ministry.