Walking Our Faith: We are knit together (column)
August 18, 2017
On Sunday, Maggie Ducayet stood at the front of the sanctuary of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, turned and addressed the congregation. "Would everyone who has received or given one of our prayer shawls, please raise your hand?"
As I turned in my seat in the second-row pew, I gasped as nearly every hand was raised. And then I felt very sheepish.
For two years, I've been a member of the prayer shawl knitting group, which meets every Wednesday at Next Page Books & Nosh. The weekly knitting group was the first place I found friendship when I arrived in Summit County. From the start they made me feel welcome.
When I didn't show up for a few weeks, when one of my bouts of depression left me incapable of leaving home, Pat Hoogheem, one of the group members, called and suggested we carpool each week.
My contribution to the group averaged one prayer shawl a year. Still, these ladies never commented when I'd bring a sweater I was knitting for myself. And I didn't think much of it. Honestly, I imagined the finished prayer shawls gathered dust in a dark corner of the church and maybe three or four were given away each year.
Which is why I blushed in embarrassment when Maggie asked for a show of hands during the service at St. John's. Then I was shocked when she said that by her rough estimate close to one thousand prayer shawls have been given away by this group of knitters, over the last 12 years.
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There is evidence of God's blessing in this ministry. Maggie recounted that recently visitors to the church each took a prayer shawl to comfort themselves during the funeral of a dear friend. Maggie said that she'd promised God that there would always be at least one shawl available, but as she looked at the empty basket she wondered how she would keep her promise. When she arrived home, Maggie discovered a plastic bag hanging on the door to her garage, with a prayer shawl inside.
As Reverend Charlie Brumbaugh, Rector at St. John's, called the congregation to the altar to receive communion, he left the basket of prayer shawls in the aisle. He asked that we place our hand on a shawl and say a blessing for the recipient.
One of those people will be Dave Repsher, the Flight For Life nurse who was badly injured last year in a helicopter crash. Maggie Handlan, a nurse anesthetist at St. Anthony's, picked two prayer shawls at the end of the service. One she will give to Dave, who received a kidney transplant this week. The second she will give to the generous donor, Matt Martinez (Maggie informed me both men are doing very well post-surgery). Maggie frequently takes prayer shawls to the hospital, to make them available for people who unexpectedly find themselves in the emergency room.
Sitting beside me in the second row last Sunday were Laura, Christie and Barbara. We are four of the 12 regular knitters in the group. The number changes with the seasons. But the group has been meeting faithfully for more than 12 years.
In Psalm 139, we read, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You discern my going out and my coming in … you have laid your hand upon me … you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
These prayer shawls are knit together by hands aged with wisdom, each stitch carrying thoughts of loved ones, of joy and heartache in the knitter's own life, as well as blessings for those whose shoulders will be wrapped in the soft woolen garment, with prayers that have been woven among each stitch.
When completed, each prayer shawl is tied with a scrap of cloth, a simple handwritten prayer is attached with a pin. Some will go into the basket at St. John's, others will find their way to our nearby hospital, hospice, cancer center or senior center. A few will be taken by one person on a special mission of love for another. The women who knit each shawl will likely never know where they end up and whose spirit the shawl will comfort. But God does. And I believe with his guidance, each shawl finds it rightful home.
Over the past two years, though I only knit two prayer shawls, it was never remarked upon. But last Sunday I understood that while I wasn't looking, these women knit a prayer shawl around my shoulders, enveloping me with their love and wisdom and humor. And now that I understand the very good work they do, I've begun knitting a prayer shawl from a simple pattern that Laura wrote out for me, with beautiful donated alpaca yarn that Maggie brought. I will endeavor to knit many more in the years to come.
Suzanne Anderson writes a regular religion column for the Summit Daily News.
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