Wrapped in love: Women knit shawls, breathing a prayer into each stitch

Lynda MacDougall of Weymouth teaches her daughter Caitlyn how to knit during a prayer shawl workshop sponsored by Christ Church United Methodist in Hingham. (DEBEE TLUMACKI/The Patriot Ledger)

For The Patriot Ledger

A candlelight blessing was said over skeins of yarn. Then the women began knitting or crocheting, breathing a prayer into each stitch. Except for the sounds of soft music and the click, clack of knitting needles, the room was largely silent. Row by row, prayer shawls grew. At the last stitch a final prayer was offered, before each shawl was sent on its way to wrap the sick or grieving in a woolly hug.

The scene was part of the first Prayer Shawl Ministry meeting sponsored last weekend by Christ Church United Methodist in Hingham.

Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo of Hartford, Conn. met with about 30 local women to kick off the ministry that they founded in 1998 as a way to nurture feminine spirituality.

‘‘It's the mothering side of God,'' said Bristow, who heads the prayer shawl ministry at St. Patrick-St. Anthony's Parish in Hartford. ‘‘We see shawls as hugs.''

Bristow and Galo began the ministry after graduating from the Women's Leadership Institute at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. In its six years, it has grown nationally, with shawls going to women in places as faraway as Afghanistan, Jerusalem and South Africa, according to the web site, www.shawlministry.com.

At the Company Theatre in Norwell where Christ Church meets, the women in the audience last Saturday came from different denominations or none at all and with varying levels of knitting expertise.

Lynda MacDougall of Weymouth came to improve her knitting skills.

‘‘It sounded fun,'' said MacDougall, who brought her 7-year-old daughter Caitlyn. ‘‘I learned how to knit from my grandmother, but I don't know yet how to end a piece.''

Anne-Marie Abraham of Hingham was on hand to help MacDougall.

‘‘I've always done charitable knitting, but solo,'' Abraham said. ‘‘It's nice to be with a group of women.''

The Rev. Victoria Gaskell, pastor of Christ Church, said the prayer shawl ministry was a natural outgrowth of the church's desire to pray for people in need.

‘‘It was a natural fit for our desire to be hands-on, and it's something we can offer to the community as well,'' said the Rev. Gaskell. ‘‘It's offered to anyone who wants to knit or crochet with prayer for people in need of care.''

At the session's start, Bristow told of a Navajo myth where Grandmother Spider passed on to women the secrets of weaving, which are form, pattern, structure and symbolism.

‘‘The weaving way holds beauty and power,'' Bristow said. ‘‘The Navajo ordered their life through the concept of weaving.''

Prayerful knitting is similar, causing a ripple of healing from giver to receiver, Bristow said. She and Galo showed colorful shawls, which formed soft variegated banks of lavender, blue and red. Some sparkled with talismans such as rings and beads knotted onto the fringes.

‘‘Each bead and charm has a story, so it becomes a source of peace, meditation and prayer,'' said Bristow, who has made about 150 prayer shawls.

Galo, who does ministry work in Hartford, has knitted about 300 shawls, but the first one she ever received was from her mother. On it, gold threads laced the red and green yarn. Childhood baubles were collected and worked into the fringe by her father.

For Galo, it drapes her shoulders with love and reassurance.

‘‘I just wept when I first got it,'' Galo said. ‘‘The shawl is given as a prayer to be received in prayer and used in prayer.''

The women displayed journals bulging with pictures and stories about shawls created and given away. Another scrapbook held cards and letters from grateful recipients.

In West Virginia, a soup kitchen offers ‘‘soup and shawls.'' A traveling teen ministry in Ohio left a shawl at each rehab center they visited. At women's shelters, victims of domestic violence often find themselves welcomed with a warm mantle.

Galo keeps a book on every shawl she has given away.

‘‘I use it as a meditation. I go back and pray for (the receivers).''

Dianne Sullivan of Hanover completed about ten knitted rows in a light blue-gray shawl for a sick friend.

Mary Frederickson of Brockton said she planned to introduce the knitting project to her church in Bridgewater, St. John's Catholic Church.

‘‘I'm going to bring it my Bible study,'' Frederickson said. ‘‘We already send quilts to Europe now.''

After three hours, shawls in progress were heaped onto a table, surrounded by the knitters. All hands touched the works, while Bristow gave a final blessing.

‘‘May God's grace be upon this shawl...,'' she said. ‘‘May the one who receives this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in love.''

As the shawls are completed, they will be sent to a variety of social service agencies through the church.

Shawl session

The next monthly Prayer Shawl Ministry session is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. March 27 in the Gala Room of the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell. It is sponsored by Christ Church United Methodist. For more information, call the church at 781-741-5030.

Suzette Martinez Standring can be reached at suzmar@comcast.net.

Used with permission

Copyright 2004 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, February 28, 2004

Article Link: http://ledger.southofboston.com/articles/2004/02/28/life/life05.txt



Back To Articles

Main Page