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Sunday, July 09, 2006

It's Mission Monday Again

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 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.


  1. I love this ministry and would like to start it up in our church. Finns are knitters I find and I love it that the whole church get behind these prayer shawls and pray over and bless them before they go on their way :) The picture of the children dancing really blessed my heart. Thanks songbird

  2. I am the recipient of a prayer shawl.

    When I was going through a harrowing and difficult time in my life (divorce, coming out, changing denominations), two friends knitted me a shawl. THey took turns, so that the prayers of both of them were knitted into the shawl. As Songbird says, the yarn they chose had a mind of its own --they thought the shawl would be a nice blend of blue, yellow and purple--but they hadn't seen the other colours in it, and it turned out to be a rainbow shawl!

    Very appropriate, very appreciated, and very cherished!

  3. One morning in worship, we were sharing joys and concerns. A knitter stood up and said, "I have a joy." "What is it?" I asked. "It's you!" She came down the aisle with a shawl, tears streaming down her face. (Mine, too.) I wore the shawl as we prayed that day. I've never had an experience quite like it.
    Some of my favorite shawl stories are from older men who think that's all very well for gals, but are surprised how much they like theirs when they find themselves in the hospital.

  4. I love this idea. I am a very novice knitterbut maybe I'll try this. In a related ministry, a nearby church knits preemie baby hats for the local hospital NICU. I would love to figure out how to do that too.
    I am enjoying the new format revgals!

  5. I have sat beside people at many a Presbytery meeeting as they worked away on such a ministry. ANd when baby was born a fellow ring-member gifted us with a prayer shawl on behalf of her congregation.

    THanks again Sue!

  6. I've knitted one prayer shawl--for a seminary friend's sister as she was fighting Hodgkin's lymphoma.

    I've received two:
    --one from my home congregation when I graduated from seminary, which I wore during my call interviews;
    --another from my new synod when I was installed at my two congregations here. Ever since the candidates for bishop were given prayer shawls at the last election, the current bishop has made sure that all new pastors here are given one at installation.

    It's a wonderful ministry!

  7. You are most welcome Gord!

    Songbird, you are SO right about the response of men to receiving a prayer shawl. Not to generalize of course, but I've been so touched by the emotion that the receiving of a prayer shawl has drawn out of the men in our church.

    At Christmas time we gave prayer shawls to all of the residents at the city's youth shelter. There were sixteen of them and we were honoured to give them a gift of warmth and prayer.

    I continue to be awestruck at the power of this ministry. I wrote an article about our prayer shawl ministry for the UCCan's "Women's Concerns" magazine. I'll reprint part of the article over on my blog sometime this week...

  8. I received a prayer shawl from Stephens Avenue via Songbird and the shawl is one of my favorite things. The shawl feels good and carries in it (somehow) the prayers of the knitter. I am surprised by how comforted I am by the shawl. I'm not the only one who loves it because it wanders around our house with different family members and if we aren't using it, the kitty cats are napping upon it.


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