For this Monday's Mission Moment we present a post by Songbird about this unique ministry at her congregation. Remember: if you have a mission project you want to tell others about, e-mail us at email@example.com and you may see your ministry featured on Monday someday soon.
I was sitting at a church meeting almost three years ago when I noticed a woman knitting what looked like an enormous blanket. It was actually a Prayer Shawl, a long rectangle, perfect for throwing around the shoulders, wide enough to wrap around a mother and her child, soft and comforting. I discovered that the idea for a Prayer Shawl Ministry had come from two women studying at Hartford Seminary, and I brought the idea home to Stevens Avenue Congregational Church.
I didn't expect to start knitting again myself. After a case of tendonitis, I had given up knitting. But the needles for a Prayer Shawl are so big, it occurred to me that I might be able to handle them. Soon a group of women at church were meeting to knit, and I was knitting with them.
Isn't it in 1 Thessalonians 5 that Paul admonishes us to knit without ceasing? Look it up!
Oh, well; maybe not. Perhaps he tells us to pray without ceasing, after all.
Knitting a Prayer Shawl is praying, I find. The pattern of knit 3, purl 3, is rhythmic as music. The yarn of choice is fussy enough that it requires focus from the knitter. It is inexpensive enough that cost is no barrier to participating. It comes in varied hues and solids. Many of its shades form surprising stripes that you would never expect when choosing a skein.
We made Prayer Shawls for homebound church members, for families with new babies, gave them to members in the hospital. We kept knitting when it seemed we had more than we could ever give away, and then they would be needed, and we would start again. Each Prayer Shawl has been blessed in church. On one Sunday, I brought a dozen shawls into the Sanctuary in a large basket and asked the children to hold them up so that the congregation could see the different shawls. Some children were reverently still, and others danced, and one simply spun around, the colorful shawl spread wide above her head. There are many ways to give God thanks and praise!
Twelve of the shawls spent three months last year traveling in a box to South Africa, where my friends Anne Marsh and Scott Lovaas were serving as United Church of Christ missionaries. Anne worked with a group of women who are HIV positive to develop a beadwork cooperative as a source of income. Around town I run into people wearing the little AIDS badges they beaded, hanging from safety pins, and we give each other a smile of recognition. Some are wearing pins I took off my coat to give away. Others bought them at church fairs. After two years of handling the work of the beading women's hands, my knitting ladies wanted to send the work of our hands to them. Click here for a picture of the ladies on the day they received their shawls.
Some have gone a shorter distance. My friend the Rev. Dr. Judith Blanchard is the Protestant Chaplain at Maine Medical Center. Her ministry is supported in large part by donations from Protestant churches all over the state of Maine. Our small church gives some money each year, but we also bring her shawls. Some have gone home with patients who didn't expect to ever leave the hospital. Others have been wrapped around patients who died there.
Our most recent adaptation of the Ministry is also for the hospital. Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Med has a constant population of infants born to addicted mothers, between four and eight on any given day. Some of these children will go home to their mothers, most to foster care. We are now knitting half-size prayer shawls for these babies, with the hope that whoever cares for them when they leave the hospital will see the shawls as a sign of the immeasurable value these children have in God's eyes.
When I first suggested knitting Prayer Shawls, someone told me we didn't have any knitters at church. To date, our circle of knitters is in double digits and still growing. For more information about knitting a prayer shawl, visit the Prayer Shawl Ministry website.