Prayerful hearts and flying fingers
By: Karen Pelkey, Staff Writer
dedicated men and women belonging to various churches and groups have
sparked a colorful renaissance of an ancient method of prayer and healing
in the Farmington Valley.
Every day, numerous fingers holding sewing needles and yarn are
busy in homes and churches, gas stations, stores and waiting rooms
crafting soft, warm "prayer" shawls in a rainbow of different
colors for sick and grieving members of various parishes, their friends
and relatives, and people outside of their own church communities. The
recipients are often women suffering from breast cancer and other
illnesses or the loss of a child or spouse, according to Carol Farland,
who brought the idea of knitting the shawls to the women of St. Bernard's
Church in Tariffville a couple of years ago.
feel like they're a little more connected to the rest of us," said
Farland, who said that shawls also occasionally go to those who are
homebound, to men, and as gifts of congratulations for new births,
birthdays or anniversaries.
cancer survivor herself, Farland recalled how she felt the day she first
learned about the shawls. Her employer, the West Hartford-Bloomfield
Health District in West Hartford Town Hall, had started an after-work
social group that did various projects. Farland noticed a message about
making prayer shawls on a co-worker's desk, which also went into some
detail about who they were made for.
said, this would have been nice (to have when she was sick)," Farland
was hooked. She eventually pitched the idea to friends and fellow members
of St. Bernard's, who formed a shawl-knitting ministry that has since
spread to at least two other parishes in the area, St. Mary Church in
Simsbury and Memorial United Methodist Church in Avon.
it just keeps spreading, and it's a wonderful thing," she said.
McGinnis of Unionville said her knitting group at Avon's Memorial United
Methodist Church put out a newsletter about its ministry on the Internet,
which garnered requests for information from people around the country
interested in learning how to make the shawls.
- which includes a man who's made three or four shawls - loves to knit.
never had to say to anyone, 'I don't have one for you,'" said
McGinnis. "One time, I said, 'I'm running low on prayer shawls!' and
the next week, I had six! Once it's started, it really runs itself."
past year and a half, almost 30 shawls made by the group at St. Bernard's
have warmed shoulders and comforted souls in the area, Farland said. The
women learn about those in need from their deacons and priests.
Eventually, the knitters would like to visit hospices, various charitable
organizations and hospitals, and meet more future shawl recipients,
including children who are sick.
general knitting movement remains close to home for now. Almost all of the
handcrafted items made by St. Bernard's are handed out personally by
church leaders and parishioners, Farland said.
each shawl is sent off, it is blessed - officially, once a month at the
church - and a label is sewn into the fabric with a message that says, in
no specific words, "as you wrap yourself, we're wrapping our arms
around you." The note explains that the shawl was made with love by
the people of St. Bernard's, Tariffville.
to Farland, a veteran knitter, there is no wrong way to craft a prayer
shawl. She said the women use a very "forgiving" yarn, which
makes the hobby popular with inexperienced knitters, and even with those
who have never tried it. Although there are only about six "very
regular" knitters at St. Bernard's, Farland said about 20 people have
consistently produced shawls. But she said people ask her about helping
all the time.
recalled a woman once telling her after church that she would like to
help, but did not know how to knit. Farland sent her husband home for her
yarn and needles, and after a thorough lesson at the church, she sent the
woman home, and now "she's knitting away," she said.
just something that's easy to do while you're riding in the car, or
watching television," she said, adding that the women often say a
prayer before beginning their work, asking God to bless their hands, yarn
and knitting needles, and "in their simplicity, to find comfort and
for the materials to make the shawls - the cost to craft one is usually
between $10 and $15 - comes mainly from the knitters' own pockets. But the
group sometimes comes up with a creative way to save. Last fall, the women
made scarves for the St. Bernard's Ladies Guild fall bake sale, and sold
them for the price of one shawl.
people got something, while also giving something back," said Farland.
either can't or don't want to knit, but who still want to support the
knitters' cause, sometimes approach Farland with small donations.
really helps us, too," she said. "We don't sell them (prayer
shawls), and they aren't given as Christmas gifts. They're done more as a
memorable experience with a prayer shawl, Farland said, was presenting one
to a young woman who discovered, while pregnant, that she had cancer. The
woman, who happened to be the daughter-in-law of a couple who attended St.
Bernard's, decided to have her baby, anyway.
talking with the couple after church, Farland said she knew their
daughter-in-law was the next recipient of a scarf she had been working on
finished the shawl that night," she said. "Megan (the
daughter-in-law) lived to see her baby be a year old. It was probably the
most memorable because my initial concept was (that) only 'little old
ladies'(got shawls). She just wasn't what I would have envisioned to need
a prayer shawl."
shawls, however, have been used in a variety of different forms throughout
the ages, and have been said to help comfort, heal and cure both men and
women, young and old. Biblical historians report that the shawls date back
to the times of the Apostles, when it was believed that relics of the
saints' clothing helped cure illness and bring comfort to the sick.
Bible's book of Acts, Chapter 19, Verse 11, reads, "God wrought
special miracles by the hands of Paul; so that from his body were brought
unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from
them, and the evil spirits went out of them."
said she hopes more people will continue to help revive this form of
prayer throughout the Valley. She recently taught her 22-year-old daughter
how to knit, and encourages anyone else who is interested to contact St.
Bernard's at 658-5142 for a set of directions and other information. To
contact St. Mary Church, call 658-7627, and for Memorial United Methodist
Church of Avon, call 673-2111.
©Farmington Valley Post 2003
Reasons for knitting are many
By: Karen Pelkey, Staff Writer
HARTFORD - Their fingers fly, but their thoughts hold steady.
They remember the woman who lost her former fiancé to the
Vietnam War, and who now grieves over her daughter's deep depression. They
laugh affectionately when they hear about Hartford's first female
pediatrician, now elderly, who tripped over her nightgown and broke her
hip. And they are reminded of the power of their craft when they recall
the breast cancer patient, now gone, who taught everyone she knew at the
hospital how to knit after she received a soft, warm shawl from their busy
"click, clack" of the women's knitting needles is all that can
be heard for many minutes, but it's a soothing sound. The sun shines on
all nine women who are busy working in the Quiet Room, tucked in a corner
of First Church of Christ, Congregational. The light sometimes catches
both the bright solids and multi-colored pastels laid carefully on their
laps. A candle burns in the middle of their circle. The work begins and
ends with a prayer.
unlikely that an average person would even notice the group, which at
first glance is just a circle of mostly elderly women from the Farmington
Valley and beyond, who meet once a month during the morning to chat about
themselves, their families and their knitting.
any of the 350 people - mostly sick and grieving members of the local
community and beyond - who have received one of their completed shawls in
the past three years about the knitters, and you'll have evidence of a
ministry on the verge of widespread fame and appreciation.
hear thank you notes," said Myra Bowers of West Hartford. "It's
letter came recently from a close friend of Marge Weed of Bloomfield, who
is a First Church knitter. The letter read, "I cherish it (her
shawl). Everything about it is comforting - the muted colors, the softness
of the yarn, the ample size that engulfs me ... but most of all, I cherish
it because it was given to me by others of faith."
has spread like wildfire through local communities, as word of mouth about
the shawls and how to knit them hooks more and more men and women who want
a way to reach out to loved ones and help those who are lonely, especially
during difficult times.
Susan Jorgensen of Burlington was so inspired by the radically-popular
phenomenon that she, along with her colleague Susan Izard of West Hartford
- who started the knitting group at First Church, where she is a pastor of
spiritual life - decided to write a book.
"Knitting Into the Mystery: A Guide to the Shawl Knitting
Ministry," the comprehensive work is both a history and a how-to, and
contains chapters on contemplative knitting and on knitting alone. Slated
for publication by Pennsylvania-based Morehouse Publications in the fall,
Jorgensen said the book will be heavily marketed locally.
part due to the high interest in knitting that's been contagious in the
area for the last few years, according to Jorgensen, a private practice
spiritual director who works from the Spiritual Life Center in Bloomfield.
would never have believed the power in it had I not begun it myself,"
of knitting - four or five shawls at any given time, she says - began for
Jorgensen in January 2001. She joined about 15 other knitters - they come
from area churches or are affiliated with the SLC - who gather once a
month at the SLC during the evening to work at their craft.
remembered giving away her very first shawl to a woman whose husband was
killed in a car crash.
I remember that once I started knitting, I couldn't stop," she said.
Jorgensen's main inspiration for writing the book, she said, came from a
woman whose sick 8-year-old grandniece was receiving a shawl from
Jorgensen last spring. The woman wanted Jorgensen to write a
blessing/prayer that went along with the shawl.
blessing/prayer, Jorgensen explained, is written on a card that is pinned
to each shawl. The card includes information about who will receive it and
why, and who knit it. When the knitting group gathers, a prayer is said
for the recipient. That prayer is also written and sent along with the
thought about what a good idea it would be to have a comprehensive work
about the growing ministry, chock full of history and details, like the
blessing/prayer, as one model for interested people to follow.
e-mailed her thoughts to Izard, who jumped on the bandwagon.
soft-spoken Jorgensen hesitates to call the knit pieces "prayer"
shawls, because the people receiving them don't always identify with a
certain religion and are not always spiritually mindful. They may not
actually pray when they wear the shawl.
knit our own prayers into the shawls," she said.
Jorgensen and Izard can take all the credit for their book, they pass the
medal for shawl knitting wisdom to two Connecticut women who came up with
the original idea to knit shawls, as well as the very first "knit
three, purl three" knitting instructions. Janet Bristow and Vicki
Galo began their ministry as a project for the first Women's Leadership
Institute at Hartford Seminary about three years ago.
they knit a shawl, they prayed for each person (each recipient),"
said Mary Blume of St. Mary Church in Simsbury, who also works from the
SLC and visits there each month with a few fellow parishioners, who all
love to knit. Blume recently gave her first knitted shawl to her
she received it, she had tears in her eyes. She picked it up like it was a
baby," said Blume.
the knitting has become a bridge between herself and other people. When
they notice her work, they stop to ask her what she's doing and it often
leads to conversation about their own lives and experiences. So the
shawls, she said, touch people in many more ways than just the physical
comfort a recipient can receive from wearing one.
at First Church realized this when it gathered 25 completed shawls that
will be sent to the Afghan Women's Council in Afghanistan, which gives aid
to Afghan women, children and refugees, sometime this month. The shawls
came from knitters working from four local churches, including their own.
call these packages "shawls of peace," and hope to begin a
similar project that involves making shawls for United Nations ambassadors
from the U.N.'s 191 member states in honor of U.N. Day in October. Each
shawl would be made in the colors representative of each ambassador's
ambitious women are also trying to set up a Web site about the project to
help facilitate cooperation and garner interest in creating the U.N.
shawls. Bowers had suggested soliciting knitters from other countries
through a link on the site.
ministry just keeps expanding ... It's so much more than who we are,"
said Izard, who echoed the power of technology to help expand the
fall of 2000, Izard posted an article about shawl knitting for a spiritual
publication called Journal Presence. At the end of the story, she posted
her e-mail address, and received letters from all over the world.
was the seed for how this all spread," said Izard.
hopes the candle their small groups have lit will continue to burn. She
firmly believes in the healing power of the shawl-knitting ministry, and,
along with Izard, says that when they're not busy with their yarn and
needles, the two have poured countless hours into writing their book.
is the most amazing thing I've ever participated in," she said.
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