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Knit together

New shawl ministry at church finds threads of inspiration in old CC article.

It was a simple beginning in a secondhand book store, several summers ago. Among a jumble of other craft books was a beautifully illustrated book of shawl patterns, perfect to take when next visiting a close friend of mine, Joyce, who is a talented knitter. The title was A Prayer Shawl Companion, written by Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo. The stories accompanying each pattern were touching and heart-warming. But after giving the book away as a gift, it was soon forgotten.

That summer I was stressed with medical issues. Within days Joyce appeared with a prayerful and lovingly-knitted sky blue shawl. Her words and the poem that accompanied it were a true blessing.

Then my dearest friend had a life-threatening medical emergency. I wanted to bestow the same blessings and thoughtfulness on Mary as Joyce’s shawl had given me. Mary’s deep mauve shawl that I knit in the Trinity pattern proved to be a deep spiritual practice for me.

Fast forward to the April 8, 2019 edition of Christian Courier and Jamie Aten’s story of being gifted a prayer shawl (“Held by God”). Jamie, a college professor and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, was starting chemotherapy and radiation for Stage IV colon cancer. His assistant Linda gave Jamie a knitted shawl with this note: “This is a Prayer Shawl. When you wear it, it reminds you of the presence of God.” Jamie discovered that “he only needed to be still before God to experience his presence more deeply.” On his sickbed “under that prayer shawl,” Jamie wrote, “I was able to lean into God. In my darkest days, when I needed God most, God became real in a very tangible way.”

Inspired by that story

Jamie’s words were the catalyst; I wanted to begin a Prayer Shawl Ministry for my church family. This decision was to become a life-altering path. When I mentioned the idea in conversation with Rev. Paul Kang, our pastor, he was immediately enthusiastic and supportive. He had experienced blessings, love and care as he wrapped his own shawl around his shoulders.

So in February, 2020, 10 women – knitters and crocheters, novice and experienced, all members of Leaside Presbyterian Church – gathered for our first Prayer Shawl Ministry meeting.

Then COVID-19 struck.

We adapted.

Our link became virtual through Zoom with only three in-person garden gatherings, as rules permitted. Knitting and crocheting Prayer Shawls for others has had an indelible influence in our lives. It is a God-given gift to the knitter as well as to the recipient. It becomes a spiritual practice for the knitter. For me, it’s a time of meditation, clearing my mind as I intone my mantra “peace (purl), blessings (knit) . . . .”

Peace of Christ

Our circle has given out over 55 Prayer Shawls to date. They have been given to men and women, young and old, on happy occasions and in sad circumstances.

In December 2020 our beloved mentor and cheerleader Rev. Paul completed his two-year term as interim minister at Leaside Presbyterian Church. Together our group completed a multicoloured Prayer Shawl for him, each person having an opportunity to add their love and prayers into this gift. We hoped that he would feel the warmth of our caring and peace of Christ when he wore the shawl.

Notes of appreciation from the recipients have touched our hearts. Especially meaningful was the note from a father, when shawls were sent to each family member. “When we put on our shawls, they make us feel warm and comforted as if God and the women of Leaside have touched us and are listening to us.”

Our Leaside Prayer Shawl Ministry has been blessed with the opportunity to share our love and concern for others through something tangible – the Prayer Shawl. Our humble thanks to Jamie Aten for his article in CC two years ago. All God’s blessings and peace.

(Betty Isbister)

Knitters around the world

Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo began the Prayer Shawl Ministry in 1997 after graduating from the Women’s Leadership Institute in Hartford, Connecticut.
Today Prayer Shawl Ministry Groups exist globally. Find a Prayer Shawl Ministry near you at shawlministry.com.

  • Betty is a member of Leaside Presbyterian Church, Toronto, where she and her husband Gordon were married 58 years ago.

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