In the winter of 2003 I read an article in the Hartford Courant about a young mom who had received a prayer shawl after the death of her husband. She indicated how touched she was to receive the shawl and by the fact that someone she didn't even know spent all that time knitting it for her. She further shared that when she felt sad and lonely she would wrap herself and her two children in the shawl and remember that people do care about her and recall the happy times spent with her husband.
As a result of that article I became intrigued by the thought of knitting prayer shawls, but (since I did not have the internet at home) did not know where to obtain a pattern to make one. During that summer I happened upon a tag sale at a grange in Granby, CT. An elderly woman there was knitting the most beautiful garment. I inquired what she was making and she told me "It's a prayer shawl." That opened up a whole conversation and before we were done I took out a paper and pen and wrote down the directions and the material I would need. That evening I purchased the materials and began knitting and praying. Within a week I had completed my first prayer shawl and, as with all prayer shawls, before it was complete I learned of a friend in our parish who had suddenly lost her dad. She was the recipient of my first prayer shawl. Again, I purchased yarn and made a second prayer shawl, just about the time that was done I learned of another friend in the parish who had just learned of the death of her cousin's young son. This friend was the recipient of my second prayer shawl. She asked that I give her the directions so she could make a shawl for her cousin.
Seeing how receptive folks were to receiving a shawl and how some wanted to make them I decided in November of 2003 to go to the Pastor of our Parish and inquire about starting a Prayer Shawl Ministry in the Parish. He had many, many questions. One of which was, "How will you distribute the shawls." I replied, "I really don't know." I gave him some information about the ministry to read (a friend of mine copied some things that a friend of hers had and gave them to me). The pastor gave me the go ahead. I prepared an announcement for the church bulletin the following week and the response I received was tremendou--approximately 30 people responded.
Working full time and being involved in other activities in the church and at the school where I work does not allow me to have a weekly meeting. We try to meet once a month (rotating the evening so that all have a chance to attend). I suggested that anyone who wanted to meet during the day could certainly do so but I would not be able to be there. Some cannot attend the meetings so they knit at home and donate the shawls. Distribution has been NO PROBLEM! By word of mouth we find out about people and have presented the shawls for a variety of reasons:
grief, sickness, caregivers, graduation, weddings, problem pregnancy, first home, moving, etc. We have also come up with a prayer blanket for infants and have knit smaller shawls for children. Each shawl is taken to our pastor before it is given away. He asks the name of the individual and the reason they will receive it and says a very special prayer for the individual or couple. A couple of our members suggested we present the shawls in gift bags. Each shawl goes out with a letter specific to the need, explaining the concept of the shawl and assuring the individual of our ongoing support through prayers.
A journal is kept with the name, date and specific need of all shawl recipients. During our prayer time the names of individuals are often read as a part of the prayer. We also started keeping a PSM scrabook with notes and letters received from recipients. A woman in the parish who does not knit expressed an interest in attending our meetings but did not want to come and "just sit there". This woman is the keeper of our scrapbook and adds the notes and letters to the book after they are read to the group.
The minsitry has taken us farther than I ever could imagine it would. We tell people that individuals do not have to be from the parish or even of the same faith to receive a shawl. We have sent them to Seattle, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and other states as well. Periodically we put an announcement in the church bulletin to let people know prayer shawls and blankets are available and who to contact if they know of someone they would like to give a prayer shawl to. As a result of our ministry there are individuals who have begun knitting shawls in their own areas and distributing them, there are also 2 individuals who knit them and mail them to our parish for distribution!
Our group has held 2 pancake breakfasts to raise funds for yarn. The parish response to these fundraisers has been overwhelming! One of our members goes shopping for yarn each time the bins are low and has great fun as people stop her with the carriage full of yarn to ask what she is doing with so much. She says she has met so many, many wonderful people in the craft store!
To date 138 shawls and blankets have been made, blessed and given away.
I think the 3 that have touched me the most were the 3 given to children who had experienced the death of a parent. I have to tell you, knitting a prayer shawl brings so many, many blessings to me. Just knitting and praying. . . sometimes I know who I am praying for and other times I do not. One thing is for certain, in this everchaning thing we call "life" a need is surely to arise before a shawl is finished. Sometimes I will be knitting a shawl with one person in mind and someone with a more immediate need will come along. Everyone in our group expresses the same sentiments, "What a blessing this ministry is to us and what wonderful, wonderful fellowship and support we receive from our friends (who have become extended family) through this ministry." If it were not for this ministry some of us probably would never have met and now we are like a close knit family. We have even taught a few individuals (including teens) to knit and some folks who had not knit in years are now knitting again.
I hope and pray that everyone who participates in the Prayer Shawl Ministry is equally as blessed as we are knitting for the Prayer Shawl Ministry in Saint Joseph's Church in Poquonock, CT! God bless you all!