Praying and Purling

How women are turning knitting into a ministry to the needy

In the fall of 2005, Shirley Meisinger of Wilton, Iowa, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When this 70something grandmother began chemotherapy, a group of women from Shirley's church gave her a hand-knitted "prayer shawl." The simple rectangular shawl "got her through that time," says her daughter, Laura Rose, 48. "After her treatments, Mom lay on her recliner covered up with it and felt comforted."

The shawl was fashioned by members of a knitting group at the United Methodist Church of Wilton. Unlike traditional Jewish prayer shawls—tassel-edged garments worn during synagogue prayer services—these shawls are prayed over as they're knitted and are meant to wrap the recipient in love.

Inspired by the shawl her mother received, Laura decided to become a member of United Methodist's knitting group. The mom of two grown children, Laura says she and her husband attend the same church her parents do, but hadn't gotten involved. "Since I started crocheting, I feel it's rekindling my spiritual life," she says. "This ministry may bring us back into the church. And my mom and I have gotten emotionally closer."

Patterns With Purpose

Knitting is a popular pastime once again—with groups popping up everywhere, including in churches. While most groups knit, some also crochet, weave, or quilt. They gather to work and pray together, sometimes sharing Scripture verses and songs. Most knit scarves, blankets, and baby clothes to give away. But often the creative act of crafting combined with the power of giving transforms women spiritually. Meetings become places of spiritual connection.

Chris Pokorny says the Crafty Angels knitting group she leads at Edgebrook Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago focuses on serving the poor. In 2006 alone, the group donated more than 3,000 items, from baby caps and blankets for Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital to hats, mittens, and scarves for Cornerstone Community Outreach in Chicago. They're also involved in Afghans for Afghans, which collects hand-knit blankets for a women's hospital in war-ravaged Afghanistan, and Project Red Scarf for foster children. While their group consists of 10 women at the church, another 50 around the country stay in touch via e-mail and send in things they've knitted.

"The women are thrilled to do something they love to make a difference," Chris notes. "I enjoy telling them, 'You're helping people around the world.' It's exciting to see women empowered and mobilized. They realize they can do God's work through something they like to do. That's energizing."

Sidney Mosely, 80, attends Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. She decided to start a ministry for widows by inviting them to gather and knit together. They laughingly called themselves "The Knit Wits," but the name stuck. The group grew to include women of all ages, and, like most knitting groups, is focused on outreach.

The group mostly knits caps that the church sends to soldiers serving in Iraq to wear under their helmets. They've also knit sweaters and blankets for the poor. "It's become a close group," Sidney says. "We sit in an open area in the church cafeteria. Everyone knows us. And the soldiers have sent letters thanking us for the caps."

At Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, a group of mostly retired women knits everything from baby blankets to scarves. The knitters in this missions-minded church of 3,300 members have provided shawls for AIDS patients in a South African hospital, baby blankets and caps for a nearby medical center, and fancy scarves for teenage girls from low-income families.

"The Truman Medical Center near us serves a large low-income population," explains group member Joyce Minor. "Some of these single moms have nothing to take their baby home in—no clothes or blankets. So we provide those for them."

While serving others, the knitters find they also connect to one another. "I started going when I first joined the church," says Joyce. "I enjoy the fellowship. We knit a little—and we talk a lot."

Knitted in Ministry

Lia Douglas, 47, is originally from Italy, where "everyone knits. My grandmother taught me when I was six." She used to knit only for herself, but eventually was looking for something more to do with her skill. "How many sweaters can you make for yourself?" she laughs.

She started making afghans for hospice patients, but each blanket took a long time. One day Lia saw a magazine advertisement for, a website that offers stories, knitting patterns, prayers, and advice on knitting prayer shawls. While the site isn't exclusively Christian, God used it to draw Lia back to her Christian roots.

"I wanted to make knitting a ministry that would be available to a large group of people. It became my mission, something I had to do," Lia says. "But I didn't know how to get it going."

Her spiritual reawakening led her to join St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where she met Maggie Hayes. She and Maggie discovered they shared a passion to start a knitting group there. Eighteen eager knitters showed up for the group's first meeting in October 2005; it now boasts 30 members and has created 220 shawls not only for people going through difficulty or illness, but also for those celebrating milestones like marriage. And when the group receives thank-you notes, it's prompted to pray for those recipients.

"I always wanted to disciple others, but I wondered if I was really getting through to anyone," Lia says. "But this is different. I feel as though I'm a part of something greater than myself, that maybe I am making a difference. It's so rewarding."

Keri Wyatt Kent is a TCW regular contributor, speaker, and author of several books, including Oxygen: Deep Breathing for the Soul (Revell).

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