Shawl ministry weaves warmth as well as prayer

October 03, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART


As each shawl made by the members of the shawl ministry at St. John's Lutheran Church is begun, a prayer is entwined in the weave so both will warm the recipient.

"It is hoped that the person making the shawl will also pray during the process and upon completion," said Mary Lou Brooks, the part-time program coordinator at St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown for the past year.

Brooks said she became aware of the shawl ministry movement at her church, St. John's Episcopal in Hagerstown, where a deacon has supported the program there.


Founded in 1998 by two women in Connecticut, shawl ministry combines the love of knitting into a prayerful ministry that reaches out to those in need of comfort and solace. There is a Web site - - for anyone wanting more information.

When she came to work at St. John's Lutheran, Brooks said she quickly learned many church members regularly knitted or crocheted baby clothes and booties for hospitals.

There was no difficulty narrowing that effort down to shawls specifically, Brooks said, and the shawl ministry was begun.

While most members are women, one 14-year-old boy is in the group, Brooks said.

Whether called prayer shawls, comfort shawls or peace shawls, they wrap, enfold, cover, mother and hug those who receive them. Often, recipients of shawls will knit one themselves and pass it onto to someone else in need.

The Mary-Martha shawl ministry at St. John's meets the first Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon at the church and beginners are welcome, Brooks said.

A crocheter, Brooks said she is learning to knit and has knitted several shawls so far.

"I've given one to a family member and I'm working on two others," she said.

Part of Brooks' enthusiasm for the program is how she felt when she was a recipient of a shawl.

"It was given as a gift of thanks from a parishioner," she said.

Brooks stressed that shawls are always given, never sold. They may be given when loved ones die or during illnesses, but also for joyous occasions such as the birth of a baby, birthdays and weddings.

"The prayer is at the core," she said. "It's not just a shawl."

The religious symbolism is embodied in the directions, "3 knit, 3 purl," which represents the trinity. The shawl length is determined by the span of the knitter's outstretched arms in the shape of the cross, Brooks said.

A native of the Pittsburgh area, Brooks and her husband, who is retired, live in Funkstown. The mother of two children, Brooks has worked as a substitute teacher.

As program coordinator, Brooks checks in with all groups and committees at the church, particularly Christian education.

"I love it here," she said. "These are wonderful people, very supportive."

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