MOUNT VERNON — Tish Hoar of Mount Vernon is a woman on a mission.
The mother of four, employed part-time and a member of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, spends much of her spare time wrapping people she has never met in prayer and love.
After participating in a related Yahoo group on the Internet, in March, Hoar founded her own branch of the Prayerfully Yours Prayer Cloth Ministry and a related one called Sending Troops Prayers to make prayer shawls and cloths and disburse them.
She contacted Knox County churches about her ministry but got no response, so “I decided on the Internet. We started with a handful of people and now we are up to 76. They are all over America and Canada, with one in Scotland. In my group there is every single Christian religion. It doesn’t stop at any one denomination. We all believe in one God and in the strength of prayer.”
The closest of her group’s crafters to Mount Vernon are in Newark and Walhonding. One crafter in Pennsylvania, reports Hoar, is “completely blind but looms beautiful things. Some have arthritis but they can still loom. Some are disabled or homebound.”
Hoar is the coordinator, taking e-mailed requests for cloths and shawls, finding an available crafter, receiving the finished item and sending it off to the receiver.
The use of prayer cloths and shawls, Hoar explains, is based on Acts 19:11-12: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”
She said, “The shawl represents Jesus’ arms and our prayers around the person” who receives it. Both shawls and cloths are “something tangible somebody can hold on to,” a way for the recipient to see and feel grace, love, peace and the prayers of others.
The modern-day idea of cloth imbued with prayer comes from the Prayer Shawl Ministry. Their Web site at www.shawlministry.com explains that Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo graduated from the Women’s Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., and the idea grew out of their participation in the program of applied Feminist Spirituality. Their “prayerful ministry” and spiritual practice, founded in 1998, combines compassion for others with a love of needle arts.
As the crafter begins to make the shawl or cloth, a prayer is said to dedicate the work. Some light a candle or play soft music to enhance the prayerfulness of the process. Knitters use a three-stitch method to symbolize Father, Son and Holy Ghost or faith, hope and love.
Prayers continue as the work progresses. Some crafters, said Hoar, stitch charms or beads to the item. When finished, more prayers are said over it before it is sent to the receiver; some crafters ask their pastor or priest to bless the item. A prayer shawl is never to be sold, although donations to purchase more materials can be accepted by the crafter.
The colors chosen have different meanings: pink for breast cancer, blue for healing, white for a baby being baptized, camouflage or muted colors for soldiers on the front lines.
“There are no rules,” said Hoar, “except to pray.”
Shawls offer comfort and warmth when wrapped around the shoulders and arms of an ill or anxious person. But what if a shawl is not practical, such as while one is in combat in Iraq?
Hoar’s Sending Troops Prayers ministry makes pocket prayer cloths, about 3-by-5 inches (exact sizes don’t matter), in camouflage colors, that soldiers can carry in a pocket or tuck inside a helmet.
Military insignias for every branch of the armed forces are incorporated when the cloth is being sent to specific branches. Some crafters make them in the shape of angels or incorporate a cross into the design.
Hoar’s group also makes colorful cloth pillow cases for a combat support hospital in Iraq and drawstring bags for helicopter transport of records and X-rays. The military chaplains who receive these also pray over them.
Hoar has made 40 prayer shawls and more than 300 prayer cloths. She has crocheted for 15 years.
“As a group,” she said, “we have made more than 1,500 pocket prayer cloths and sent them to Iraq. And more than 100 shawls have been made for Iraq.”
Sometimes Hoar receives thank-you notes.
“When I put a prayer shawl around me, I can feel the love of my precious Father holding me,” wrote a 73-year-old widow who lives alone and struggles with health problems.
Hoar sent identical prayer cloths to a mother in Wisconsin and a daughter in New York, as a way of keeping them connected.
The mother wrote, “I truly love it and appreciate that you sent one just like it to my daughter. Being so far away is difficult.”
An Army chaplain serving with Operation Iraqi Freedom wrote, “Every gift we have received has helped us endure some catastrophic highs and lows during this war.”
The group has made shawls and cloths for the homeless, for nursing homes and baby nurseries, hospice centers, amputee centers and hospitals, West Virginia churches dealing with the recent coal mine tragedies, and for people living in Israel, England and Australia.
But, said Hoar, “We don’t expect thank-yous. We do this because we love to do it. But when we get thank-yous, it reminds us why we do this.”