March 16, 2005


VOL. 15, NO. 6




Shawls knit prayer and healing together

Members of Magothy UMC meet weekly to knit shawls and pray together

 for the recipients of the shawls.

For thousands of years, prayer has been a powerful source of healing.

Lately this spiritual practice has taken on a more visible and tangible dimension as a result of a new prayer shawl ministry initiative developed by Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, graduates of the Women's Leadership Institute of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

Since its inception in 1998, prayer shawl ministry, which combines the ancient craft of knitting with prayer, has gained popularity in many denominations as a way to provide comfort and solace to those in need.

At Magothy UMC in Pasadena, a prayer shawl ministry group meets weekly to knit gifts of compassion. JoAnne Zoller Wagner, who was originally an ordained minister but now serves her church as a lay member and Bible study teacher, leads the group, which was started last September.

"I've always been an enthusiastic knitter and wanted to teach knitting with a Christian purpose," said Wagner. "I learned about this ministry on the Internet and read about it in the book 'Knitting into Mystery,' by Susan Izard and Susan Jorgensen."

A team of 15 male and female knitters, who range in age from 11 to 89 years old, has already created 11 handmade shawls. They are given to friends who are chronically ill, isolated or homebound, people who have cancer, or who are coping with grief and loss, or simply having stressful times.

"The power of the prayer shawl is in its physical properties and source of warmth," said Wagner. "It feels like a hug and serves as a reminder of people who are praying for them."

Shawls are knitted individually at home and also at Sunday church gatherings where members get together for fellowship and prayer at each meeting. The shawls are blessed when completed.

"There always seems to be someone in need of a shawl, and in the course of making each one, it becomes apparent who the recipient will be," Wagner added.

"The problems of the world are so overwhelming, but prayer shawl ministry is tangible," said Wagner. "What you are doing deepens you spiritually, knowing how many people need each other and God, which can be addressed with prayer and compassion."

Throughout the process, the knitters are mindful of the group's mission: to create a prayer shawl as an outward and visible sign of the mystical reality of prayer that knits souls together in God and Christ.

The coming together of knitting and prayer is a logical one, as there are lots of knitting references in the Bible, said Wagner. In fact, the group uses a simple pattern of threes to echo the Christian tenets of faith, hope, and love.

The gift of a prayer shawl enables the recipient to be surrounded by prayer, and is a tangible reminder of God's care and love, encouragement or inspiration, added Marjorie Zoet Bankson, an artist who will be exhibiting her work at Mt. Vernon Place UMC in Baltimore.

Bankson has been involved in women's ministry for more than 20 years and started to create shawls for friends who were facing challenges like a surgery or illness. She makes the shawls out of fabric - natural fibers like silk or cotton work best, she said - and embellishes them with paints, lace and buttons, often taking her inspiration from nature's images such as sunrises and storm clouds.

Her creations are providing much needed comfort and support.

"On dark nights when I wake up alone and frightened, I wrap it around me," said one recipient.

An exhibit of Bankson's work, which features 11 shawls made out of silk, will be displayed at Mt. Vernon Place UMC in Baltimore throughout Lent. A reception will be held at the church on Palm Sunday, March 20, from 2-4 p.m. The artist will give a talk about her work.

To start a prayer shawl ministry group or establish a network within the conference, contact Wagner at (443) 770-0182, or email: More information about the history and background of prayer shawl ministry can be found at

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