The Prayer Shawl Ministry was started in 1998 in the
United States by Vicki Galo and Janet Bristow. It's an
ecumenical ministry that has gone around the world.
In the fall of 2005, I was going to have more surgery on
my right foot, and I was looking at not walking for
another five months. I had a friend at church who knits toe-warmers
for a local hospital, and I asked her for the pattern.
After I had more than enough toe-warmers, I
asked her what else she was working on. She told me about the
ecumenical group she belonged to that were making prayer shawls. I
asked her if she would send me the pattern. So now I had patterns
and the yarn and started working on a prayer shawl.
I continue to knit prayer shawls - for all the
comfort, peace, and strength people tell me they get from putting
their prayer shawl around their shoulders, and for the peace that I
feel from working on a shawl. Knitting the prayer shawl, and saying
prayers for the person who was going to receive it, helped me to
think of something besides myself and what I was going through. It
definitely saved my sanity that winter.
Most prayer-shawl ministries knit or crochet shawls and
robes to console those who are grieving, comfort those who
are ill, and bring hope to those in despair. They may also be made
to celebrate life and its milestones.
Prayer shawls have been around since the beginning of
time. The Jewish faith has had prayer shawls back to
before the time of Jesus. They were woven, and people put coloured
threads, patterns, and knots in them to remember the laws of their
Our group is based in Holy Trinity Catholic Church in
Beaverton, Oregon. I'm the co-ordinator of this group on
paper, but it is headed by the Holy Spirit. The group has about
15-20 members. We meet for two hours once a month on a Saturday
afternoon at the parish office.
Our parish priest comes and blesses the shawls at the
meeting. Some ladies will bring their finished shawls to
the meeting, pick up yarn and be on their way. Others will stay the
whole time. I bring cookies for the ladies, and the leftovers are
Father's pay for blessing the shawls for us. We laugh, and share
good times and bad.
We have made and given away over 950 prayer
shawls. When we first started, everyone bought their own
yarn. Then, as time went on, and people in the parish started to
hear about us and request prayer shawls, they would buy us yarn or
give us a donation to make the next shawl. Now, unless someone
wants to, no one has had to buy yarn since the beginning of
If someone can't afford a donation, I ask them
to pray for the ladies making the shawls.
We gave a prayer shawl to a man who was undergoing
cancer treatment. His wife had been diagnosed with Lou
Gehrig's disease. When the man celebrated his 80th birthday, they
had decided to donate any money people gave him to us. We received
a cheque for $185.
The original pattern was using a size 13 needle - US
sizing - casting on 57 stitches. The pattern was knit 3,
purl 3, across every row. The finished size for adults is about two
feet wide and five to six feet long. We make smaller ones for
children that are 18 inches wide and about four-and-a-half feet
Our requirement for the yarn is just that it be soft and
cuddly, and machine washable and dryable.
There is no right or wrong way to pray as we work on the
shawls. Some say a prayer before they start working,
others pray the rosary as they knit or crochet. If we know the
person who will have the shawl, and a little about their situation,
it adds a whole new dimension to the prayers, and brings you closer
to them. Some ladies have a set time that they knit and pray, while
others when the Spirit draws them to knit and pray.
For me, the knitting is both meditation and practical
service. I know that the shawl is going to bring comfort
to someone and help ease the stress in their lives. I also find
that the stresses in my life settle down, or can be ignored for a
Some churches give shawls only to members. But
that has never been our guideline. We figured that if someone found
us and asked for a prayer shawl, then we needed to get one to them,
because they were asking. It might be a friend or, relative, or a
stranger who finds me on the internet.
We give shawls to everyone who joins the church at
Easter, and I have a picture of some of the 26 prayer
shawls we did this year. We used to ask people their favorite
colour, and we were often hurrying to finish them before Easter. We
found that this wasn't a very prayerful way to work on the
Fr Dave, our pastor, gives them to the families at the
end of a funeral, so they have something to take with them
to give comfort. We also have a homebound ministry in our parish,
and we make sure that each person is given a prayer shawl to remind
them that they are still part of our parish.
I have also made prayer stoles for a church prayer
service. Everyone who came forward for a blessing was
presented with one. I have made pillows with pockets for the
confirmation group, so the youth could keep their Bible or paper
and pen in the pocket during their retreat. I have also made bags
that the youth could keep things in. I have made and helped make
banners for our church.
Dum - pronounced "Doom"- is a German name that,
we have been told, means "wood" or "carpenter". My husband, his
father, and grandfather were carpenters. My husband's mother is
Italian. My family comes from Belgium and France.
My mum taught me to knit when I was about nine or ten
years old. We learned to make hats, scarves, slippers, and
mittens before moving on to pullovers and cardigans.
My husband and I have three children, two boys
and one girl, who are grown, and one grandson who is one year old.
My husband works with computers, and has been a great help with the
prayer-shawl ministry. We will take our three children and their
spouses and our grandson to Disney World to celebrate our 40th
wedding anniversary in the fall.
I attend a Roman Catholic church. My family has
been part of this parish for 39 years. You are greeted by smiling
faces as you enter, and if you are missing for a week you're asked
if everything is OK. The pastors' homilies are practical.
Homilies that deal with how we should treat others have
had the greatest influence on me. The corporal and
spiritual works of mercy tell me how I can be the best person I can
be in treating my fellow travellers. And the great commandment is
to "Love one another as you want to be loved."
I lived in co-operative housing in college. Our
house mother was a wonderful lady who brought out the best in me
and told me that I didn't have to be afraid to try new things: it
didn't matter if I failed. I could try again or just do something
else. She always told me that I was just fine the way I was: people
would like me just for being me.
The sound of ocean waves is very relaxing to
me; or listening to water in a creek. God knows how many
grains of sand there are, and if he knows that, then he must know
all of me. Being still with nature.
My favourite place is Depoe Bay, on the coast of
Oregon. The water is very cold, but I love to watch the
waves break on the cliffs. In the spring and fall, it's a great
place for whale-watching.
I would choose to be locked in a church with the Blessed
Virgin Mary. I would want to know how she could keep all
the sorrows in her heart and keep going.
Linda Dum was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.