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Ministry wrapped in warmth of prayer

Originally published 5.5.2001

by Margaret Moffett Banks

Four women settle into comfy chairs just outside First Lutheran Church's sanctuary, then pull strands of blue and gray yarn from big knitting bags. Stacked on the floor before them are finished shawls in purple, burnt orange and other warm, soothing tones.

For three months, these women and a dozen others have gathered a few times each month to knit shawls--soft, cuddly wraps that hang over the shoulders. The women call the wraps healing shawls because they like to think they weave in helpful prayers with every stitch.

When someone finishes a shawl, the women light a candle, gather in a circle and say a prayer over their work. They have a recipient in mind as they're making it--someone who is sick, or hurting, or celebrating good news. And as they bless the shawls, they ask God for strength--to comfort the dying, to strengthen the ailing, to protect the healthy.

"Creating God," they said, "be with us now and bless the fruits of the one who labored in knitting this healing shawl. Grant that this shawl may serve as a mantle of your gentle love and healing grace to the one who receives it."

They have given away 39 shawls. And every time they knit a new one, these women bring each other up-to-date on illnesses and births and deaths.

Last Tuesday, the women talked about knitting a new shawl for a member of their congregation.

Pat Patrick asked: "Now what's wrong with her?"

"Didn't she have quite a few family deaths in succession?" Ellenor Shepherd said, the click-click-click of her needles punctuating her words.

"It's been like an epidemic," Bea Petrea said, shaking her head, keeping her eyes trained on her yarn.

"When cancer," two knitters said together.

It's not an expensive ministry for First Lutheran, nor is it time consuming. The women, some retired, some stay-at-home moms, knit a little while they're watching TV, then knit a little more when they come to meetings.

But 39 times, it has helped people feel a little better, helped them feel God's presence wrapped around them. They deliver them in person, with a prayer card attached to each.

The women gave one shawl, a taupe one with short fringes, to a local attorney who has heart problems. When he drapes the shawl around his shoulders, he wrote the ladies in his thank-you note, he feels wrapped in prayer.

They gave another, this one light blue, to a lady with cancer. She wears it during her chemotherapy treatments. Always.

Thirty-nine people in all, feeling loved and cherished and blessed.

The four were finishing up Tuesday when a woman who knits for First Lutheran on another day rushed into the circle. Her friend, someone who had recently had back surgery, can no longer walk, the pain in her legs unbearable. The woman reaches into her bag and reveals a rich purple shawl, with ribbons of even darker blue yarn stitched throughout. She asks the women to bless the shawl now, because her friend needs it badly.

They gather in a circle, the candle still flickering, and say their prayers.

The woman wipes the tears from her eyes and heads for her friend's bedside. The knitters wish her well.

The count is now at 40.

Margaret Moffett Banks covers religion for the News & Record. Call her at 373-7031 or send e-mail to mbanks@news-record.com .

Courtesy of the News & Record .

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