Stitch by stitch, love grows in Venice

By Kim Cool

Features Editor

Venice, Florida


Several Epiphany Cathedral ladies are sharing their talents in a new ministry -- the Shawl Ministry.

"Loving to create items with their hands, these women are using their craft skills as a spiritual practice," Shawl Ministry spokesperson Victoria Galo said. "This ministry has people focus on something they can give back to the community."

Galo, founder of the national movement, was at the cathedral recently to help members form a Shawl Ministry program.

This womanly ministry was developed by Galo and Janet Bristow, two 1997 graduates of the first Women's Leadership Institute, a program in applied feminist spirituality at the Hartford Seminary. For one of the women, it began with a handmade gift, and inspiration from Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network. Both women had a desire to reach out to women in times of need as well as celebration.

Shawls were selected as for the project as much for their usefulness as for what they have come to represent, Galo said. For centuries, shawls have been worn by both men and women to "enfold, comfort, cover, wrap, give solace, warm, mother, hug, shelter and beautify -- symbolic of a loving mothering God -- inclusive and unconditionally loving."

"People who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed," she said, "as if being given wings to fly above their troubles."

Both maker and recipient have been benefited, she said. Many Shawl Ministries knit the shawls for members of their own communities. Others adopt communities such as an oncology center in Chicago that receives shawls for its patients from a single Shawl Ministry. Some individuals knit for specific hospitals or other groups or even for other individuals.

Epiphany member Jeanette Mercugliano knit the blue shawl pictured with this article for someone she knows. She customized the shawl by adding some meaningful trinkets to the fringed edging of the shawl. She added a strip of silver ribbon to represent the silver lining found in every cloud, a bell so that God would always know where the shawl wearer was, a cross as a symbol of her faith and some beads to represent the Rosary.

Many shawls have been given to the elderly, some to people preparing for medical procedures and those facing serious illnesses. Others are presented to those celebrating a special milestone.

"Religious leaders have used their shawls for prayer services, anointing of the sick and for marriage ceremonies," Galo said

Begun in 1998, the program has quietly spread across the country and into several foreign countries. Two women from Winter Garden Presbyterian Church in Port Charlotte, Dottie Rushforth and Beaulah Case, were at Epiphany to learn about the program and carry it to their congregation.

"I heard of the program from a friend in Massachusetts," Rushforth said. "I read about it (Epiphany's program) and came. We were looking for a new project for the women's group."

Another group heard of the project and made 36 afghans that were sent to Billings, Mont., to be used in an assisted living home there, Galo said.

Going beyond mere knitting, the shawls are begun with a spiritual blessing of the yarn, a ritualistic cleansing of the knitter's hands and meditation while knitting. Each finished shawl receives a final blessing before being given away.

"The giver also receives," Galo said. "Some of the rewards of creating these gifts of love are reduced stress, tranquility, creative inspiration and an overall sense of well-being."

Stitch by stitch, hand by hand, woman by woman, this ministry's goal is to envelop all who need comforting.

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