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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - An Interesting Yarn!

I think many of us will enjoy the conversation around today's question, and hopefully Non-Blogging Revmom will be grateful too...

I serve (part-time) a small suburban/rural congregation that has about 40 members. Unlike a lot of small churches, we have a wide variety of ages, from 8 to 80. We average 15-20 in worship with some Sundays falling to 8-10. We meet in a historic one-room church that seats about 100.
When you stand in the pulpit of a sanctuary that is only 9 pews deep, it's pretty hard to miss much that goes on in the pew. What's been going on for several months now is crocheting! It started when one mother brought yarn and hooks to occupy her two children during the sermon. Her son has rejected the idea, but some Sundays, she and her daughter sit down front and crochet. The last few weeks, I've noticed another woman working on a baby blanket and a young woman sitting on the back row also crocheting!
I'm trying hard not to take it personally, but I can't decide whether to be offended, to say something, or to let it go. So far, I haven't said or done anything. I myself take knitting or counted cross stitch to denominational meetings which are primarily reports and hours of sitting and listening because I listen better when my hands are busy. I would never think of stitching in worship, though. (Maybe my "Calvinist" upbringing is irritated since we were discouraged from sewing or doing homework on Sunday.) I would rather they stitch for pleasure and listen well than spend the service on their iPhones, but my sermons are only 12-15 minutes long and the rest of the service is very participatory. Do I need to work harder at engaging them during the sermon or should I just ignore them?
I'm curious if anyone else is seeing this phenomenon, whether I should be offended for me or for God, or whether I am making something out of nothing,
Thanks for your help.
A non-blogging RevMom

Earthchick, who blogs at was the first to respond:

I once saw a little girl knitting in worship, and I thought it was cute. I'm not sure I would feel the same way, though, if it were an adult (or several adults!). Even though I'm a knitter myself and know that I do listen better when my hands are busy, as a preacher my first inclination would be to feel that similar activity going on during worship is a bit rude.

I would be hesitant, though, to say anything to the women doing it, unless they ask what you think. Confronting them is likely to make them feel defensive and embarrassed, which is not really the spirit you want them to have in approaching worship. You, as a crafter, know that the truth is that they are probably listening just as well as (or maybe better than) anyone else. Unless what they are doing is actually disrupting anyone else's worship experience, there doesn't seem much benefit to telling them to stop doing something they seem to be doing innocently and joyfully.

Jacque adds:

We have a couple of women who knit during worship. It began shortly after a very energetic Prayer Shawl Ministry began a little over a year ago. There are Sundays (recently several in row) in which we have the blessing of a prayer shawl before it is given to a particular person who is ill, or grieving, etc. A part of the blessing of the shawl is that it is passed through the congregation so that everyone has an opportunity to touch or hold it.

During this season, our folks are also knitting and crocheting for the Tree of Warmth (mittens, hats, scarves, socks).

What I have noticed is that when the women knit during worship, other members will ask them what they are working on and they will be showing them the prayer shawl, or scarve, or hat that is in process. People in the congregation seem to have a sense that this very much a part of our ministry and even an act of worship as each stitch is filled with prayer.

It has never occurred to me to question it or to be offended by it. It seems so natural here.

From Mompriest, who blogs at

This reminds me of the woman in a congregation I served some time back who, while sitting in the front row, use to pull out her nail file and file her nails during the sermon. Except the nail filing was gross....and crochet is not. I might not be offended by the crocheting but I would be curious about what is going on in her mind and the minds of others. If they see this as something like meditation, like creating a prayer shawl, and it helps to focus their mind on the sermon, then I'd be OK with it.(It would still be odd, but I'd be OK).
If, on the other hand, they find the sermons boring and this is just a way to pass the time, I'd have to do some thinking about this, aside from how to make my sermons more interesting (I'd think about that too....but then don't we always thing about that?).... There are a number of ways to help people engage more deeply with a sermon. Some of these include a lectionary-based Bible study, that takes place during the week before the sermon. Another idea is a sermon discussion group that follows the service. For the discussion group I provide preprinted sheets of paper with questions like: Summarizing the sermon in one or two sentences, what did you hear? What was the point of the sermon? Was the point clear? Was there an illustration used to help make that point? Did that illustration work for you? Did the sermon connect to the scripture reading, and how? Then I invite folks to meet with me after the service for coffee and a discussion. THIS IS NOT a sermon critique....It is a discussion and helps people feel more engaged in what is being said.
I think the only way to get at the heart of this, is it about prayer and focusing, or is it about being bored, is to simply ask in the most non-defensive way possible. And if you can't ask it non-defensively then I'd have someone from the leadership ask them And then from there create a response - or not.

And finally, Jennifer who blogs at

Dear Non-blogging Rev Mom:

I’m a stitcher and a knitter and like, you, take something to denominational meetings to keep my hands busy (unless I have a leadership role). I think I listen well, and perhaps better, when I have something that helps me sit still. I have one woman who knits in worship, but I’m not offended by it at all, thinking that some folks do listen as well or better with handiwork. But you’re right; worship is different than a meeting. I hope your crocheting worshipers are putting down their work to pray and sing hymns! I’d be equally concerned about whether or not others (you included, as the worship leader) are distracted by this. Is there a way to discover this without diminishing your numbers in worship?

We have several thoughtful responses here, but you may have more to say about this interesting situation. Please use the comment function to add your thoughts to the conversation.

Next Thursday will be Christmas Eve. I'll be inviting you to share your favorite Christmas Eve worship stories.

May you live this day in God's Amazing Grace+



  1. I've been in ministry only seven years, but I've been in four churches so have a fairly wide range of experiences with different communities. At my last interim, one of the first questions I was asked (by people who had read in my bio that I knit) was "Do you mind if we knit in church?" I could see the question had been posed a bit defensively.
    "Of course not," I said. I definitely focus better on a speaker while knitting. I have a multi-tasking brain; if I put something that requires minimal to modest attention in my hands (say a sock or a prayer shawl), the rest of my brain focuses readily on what is being said. At my interim church, the ladies were making Remsen blankets for Church World Service. That is TOTALLY mindless knitting, back and forth, back and forth, forever! I didn't mind it at all.
    Don't take it personally. Handcrafts are seeing a renaissance and people take them everywhere the way they take coffee everywhere now. I'd rather see knitting needles or crochet hooks in the pews than people sleeping while I preach! I still have mixed feelings about smartphones, though. Maybe we need to talk about those!

  2. We don't have anyone who knits in church (that I know of); a few people bring coffee into our 10:00 contemporary worship and others are offended by this). But it's interesting that I just started bringing knitting to my husband's church for their small monday night service. I knitted a little during the sermon (I'm an active pray-er and singer, so I would never dream of knitting during those times), but then felt embarrassed about it.

    I would say what others say about "don't take it personally." There are other issues (the people who bring coffee in and those who think it's disrespectful), and I would keep my ears open to see if any of that is going on, but I would imagine that none of this is disrespectful to you personally, or reflects on your preaching ability.

  3. This might be an opportunity for your knitters to be invited to share what they are making and how it can be a ministry (prayer shawls, blankets for others, etc.).

    At one church I attended, I was walking back and forth at the back with my infant and I observed two teens reading novels and one adult balancing her checkbook during the sermon!

  4. Knitting I could live with - and could cause some very pertinent sermon observations occasionally via knitting metaphors - casting on / casting off; life unravelling; or even [groan] the purl of great price?!, etc. That will be the tester to see if they actually are listening. :)
    I like the idea that the knitting within worship could be for prayer shawls or some such tho - that's a very cool and creative way of using diverse gifts in worship.
    Phones in worship, on the other hand, are Satan's spawn. Or perhaps I'm being a wee bit reticent in telling you how I feel about them, having lived in Scotland so long... ;)

  5. I guess I don't see anything wrong with it either. It seems to be more apropos than doodling or checking email or Facebook...

    Some people do listen better if their hands are busy. It would be a good conversation starter, at the least.

  6. I had to laugh - I'm a member at 'Ravelry' the knit/crochet site with and I put in 'knitting in church' and came up with a 500-thread conversation from a year ago. Most of the knitters/crocheters thought it was great - helped them concentrate, etc.

    some of the discussion got quite heated.

    I think your response - since it's a cozy and intimate group - might be to engage conversation about what is worship - how do we worship, postures of prayer, listening, etc. Don't ignore, and don't scold, and don't patronize - love! This could be fun!

    Your group is so small - and wonderfully diverse - maybe a new crafting worship ritual may arise.

  7. I haven't had this in my worship services, but I will admit to knitting or crocheting through all of our presbytery meeting - - the business and the worship. It serves two purposes for me. During the business part, it keeps me from opening my mouth and making snarky comments to those around me. Very helpful. During the worship, I actually change my pace a little. I have a definitely stitch rhythm, for example, during the Lord's Prayer. I stitch the sections or petitions. I also do that on the fly during other portions of the worship service that aren't the same every time. During the sermon, it helps somewhat like during the business meeting (I'm a horrible sermon-listener now that I'm a weekly sermon-preacher). I also find that when I have something in my hands to keep part of my body and brain busy I find myself daydreaming less and somehow listening more.

    I can TOTALLY see, though, how others around me may think this is disrespectful and I sort of wish I could wear a sign that says, "Yes, I'm listening and praying, too." I explain it whenever I get the opportunity so others aren't offended by me, especially worship leaders if they can tell, but usually I'm in the way back near a plug for my computer which I also do during the meeting (but not worship).

  8. i have some knitters in my church, and it doesnt bug me. One of them explained to me that she listens better when her hands are moving and I've heard others say that too. I agree that, if the service is participatory, encouraging some kind of conversation or demonstration or illustration that includes knitting might be helpful and enjoyable.

  9. Sitting in a pew...I would *like* to knit during worship, but have not done so, because I believe that it would be upsetting/distracting to others in my congregation.

    I have knit during Sunday School and Vestry meetings.

  10. Oh, I've brought knitting to big meetings, especially if I'm likely to be snarky - it helps with decorum if I have something to turn my wrath upon - WRAP that stitch, PULL it through, REPEAT.

    One of my oddest moments - during intentional interim training - I was knitting socks and a young man from a non-female ordaining tradition came up and asked - why bother. He lost me twice that day - he was rude to an older woman, and he was rude to my craft!

    On the knitting board the argument was made that some folks are kinesthetic learners - they learn better by doing, or at least having motion associated with their learning.

    Again - I believe the issue here isn't the craft, but what is worship - in this setting - and how are we reverent and attentive in the moment of worship

  11. My first church in 1978 a woman put on sun glasses when I started preaching. I convinced myself that it was because the sun hit a certain point at that time in the service. Alas she did not put on sunglasses when my husband preached. Finally I rallied the nerve to ask her.. She smiled, kindly and said, I'm ready to hear a woman in the pulpit but not to see one just yet.
    We became friends and that was a reminder to me of the newness then of women ministers.
    Later in another church after I'd told that story to the women's group, 5 of them as I looked up from the prayer, put on sunglasses. It was so funny. And because only the choir could see them it was such a great gift to me.

  12. This is such a comfort to me to read the comments of women who knit in meetings in order to diffuse anger or distress or contempt at what they're hearing -- I'm not alone, hurray!
    I knit in clergy meetings and synod meetings ... and when challenged I usually say "This way there is something concrete to show for my time" or "Knitting prevents me from getting up and throttling the person speaking"...we have a parishioner with mental-health issues who strips the insulation off salvaged wire during worship, coiling it up carefully (the wire is a source of income for him)and he is always careful to sit in the very front pew where he's not distracting to other folks!

  13. If I were you, I'd ask the people who knit individually, "why do you knot during the sermon?" Based on the answer, you could take your next course of action.

  14. I am not a knitter, but I observe people knitting around me in meetings all the time. I haven't had anyone knitting during the sermon,but I'm afraid that if I did, my first thought would be, "am I boring you?"


    Except I see the comments of the knitters here, and I know that people can often listen *better* when there hands are occupied. And I know that my own son was in fact paying attention during sermons even though to all appearances he was absorbed by drawing.

    So maybe, just maybe, the knitting/crocheting is a positive thing if it helps one be receptive and attentive.

    The nature of our liturgy (Episcopal) is participatory enough that I would be much more concerned if they were doing handwork during other parts of the service.

  15. There are several people who knit during church where I worship... and it Drives. Me. Batty. I do find it disrepectful and distracting in worship. Meetings, I have no problem with, and during church conventions, I almost always wish I knew how to knit.

    I get that having something in your hands can help you listen - but knitting is not actually all that quiet of an activity. Apparently, its just me, but it seems that me that grown adults should be able to pay attention for an hour without having to have an activity to help them focus. Its especially frustrating to hear complaints of how our acolytes (elementary aged kids) are fidgety, and how that is so distracting, but having needles clicking all over the room is fine.

    If there is no double-standard, if fidgety kids are allowed to have an "activity" that makes some noise and "helps them listen," (and people aren't rolling their eyes about parents-these-days) I'd be less bothered.

  16. Thank you all for your helpful discussion! I love the idea of possibly turning this interest into a mission activity like a prayer shawl ministry. Don't know why it hadn't occured to me. The idea of discussing the question of "what is worship and how do we do it" also appeals to me. I've led classes in other churches on that subject but not in this church. They all seemed so theologically knowledgeable when I began, that it didn't seem necessary. (I'm one of the fortunate few who has followed a clergywoman who served this church for 22 years!) You have given me lots of laughs, some much needed support, and plenty of food for thought.


  17. I'm a bloke who's just started knitting (10 days ago!), to join my wife in her favourite occupation. I'm also a priest (Church of England), and I've been thinking about this, so was very glad when Sally pointed me at this discussion.

    I think I'd be happy if people were knitting, because knitting is, for me, an activity which says "I'm content, I feel at home". I'm not ready to start knitting at the front of service - particularly if I'm presiding! - and I'm not sure that my training incumbent (read "boss") would be happy if I were to do it when I'm in the congregation. Mind you, the whole knitting thing came as a something of a surprise to him (and most of my male friends!).

    I wonder whether other people have the same thoughts about "feeling at home", and whether we should encourage it - maybe at family services, in particular?

    Oh - and on smart phones - I've used mine several times when in the congregation. Two or three times to video my children dancing at the front, and once when we had some visitors from Mexico who spoke very little English. I managed to find the gospel reading online in Spanish, which was much appreciated.


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