The light clicks on in the United Methodist Church basement. The coffee is made. The old women sit in a large semi-circle, positioned on folding chairs.
Their hair is stark white, leaning a little more toward the blue side. And they knit. They knit for hours.
They are making shawls. Prayer shawls.
Take Marie. Marie is the one wearing the T-shirt that says, “Life is Good.” She received her first prayer shawl when her husband was dying.
The shawl is fire-engine red. A stranger gave it to her. Marie was in the hospital corridor, weeping, when a woman sat next to Marie, unannounced, and said, “Here. God bless you.”
“The lady said it was a prayer shawl,” said Marie. “I didn’t even know what that was.”
The mysterious woman told Marie that she had spent several hours knitting this garment, praying over with every stitch.
Marie used the shawl daily. It went everywhere with her. It was with her on the day of her husband’s funeral. It lay beside her at night, when she couldn’t sleep because her bed was empty. She carries it with her all over.
And now she knits shawls, too.
“I can knit one in about eight hours,” Marie said between needle strokes. “I give them to whomever God tells me to. Doesn’t matter who it is. Could be a little boy, could be an old man.”
Another woman adds, “I have given away over two hundred since I started making them.”
Others chime in to say similar things. Between members of group, they estimate they have given away at least a thousand shawls. Maybe more.
You might not know this, but there are throngs of prayer shawl clubs and needlecraft ministries around the United States. Not just a few. Millions. More than you or I can possibly imagine.
From Trinity Episcopal Church in Thorington, Connecticut; to Saint Henry Catholic Church in Gresham, Oregon; to Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in Goochland, Virginia; to Saint Joseph on the Rio Grande Catholic Church, in Albuquerque. From Harris Hill United Methodist Church in Williamsville, New York; to Copper Hills Church in Peoria, Arizona. From Dauphin Way United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama; to Saint Mary’s Parish in Winona, Minnesota.
Millions. And millions.
In Eudora, Kansas, for example, each Tuesday, six ordinary women get together in a Lutheran church. They knit for two hours. They tell stories. They pray for each other. They pass their shawls along to anyone they feel drawn to.
“I’ve given my shawls to kids who came from nasty divorces,” one woman said. “And I’ve given them to people whose dogs died.”
In Jacksonville, Florida, Madison Lee knits shawls with her Methodist church. She remembers when she got her first shawl.
“My grandma had just died, I had just left her house and had gone to my youth group because I needed to take my mind off things. While I was there, a man came up to me. He was holding a Ziploc bag full of some type of fleece material.
“When he handed it to me it had a prayer on the front, and as I read the prayer I got a sense of comfort. Right then the whole youth group prayed with me and tears ran down my face. I felt as though the prayer shawl had some type of superpower within it.”
Sheila, in Sacramento, California, remembers. “I made my first prayer shawl when I was sixteen. I made it for a lady in my church who was dying of pancreatic cancer.”
In Milwaukee, Grace Simpson says: “During COVID, my group gave out over 400 shawls. So many that I lost count.”
Ellen, from Towson, Maryland, said: “I knit them for hospice patients. This might be the last shawl anyone ever touches or sees in their life. It has to have a lot of power in it. Good thing my God has a lot of power.”
Sylvia, in Ohio, knits in a prayer shawl group a few times each month. She received her first prayer shawl 28 years ago when the doctor told her she was dying.
“I did not know if I was going to make it, but then along comes this little act of goodwill, and I knew. I just knew it would be okay.”
She beat breast cancer. Twice. Maybe it was the shawl that brought the miracle. Maybe it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter either way. Because the point is, it happened.
You might be wondering how you can get a shawl of your own. I asked one of the old women about that. She chuckled between stitches.
“Just pray for one. You’d be surprised what happens. It’ll find you. And that’s a promise.”
🇿🇦🇿🇦Norma Den - June 17, 2022 7:04 am
Morning Sean from an icy cold South Africa. Yes we get cold too even though the sun is shining and the sky blue..I read about prayer shawls in an Amish story. Have been fascinated since. However I crochet blankets for our church annual collection for anyone they decide to donate to. Orphans, street kids, elderly, and since I read about the prayer shawls I crochet prayers into each blanket or garment, praying for the recipient to feel the warmth of Gods love. It’s a wonderful ministry and I applaud the ladies, and sometimes men, who are involved. Bless them all.
Mary - June 17, 2022 8:58 am
Such a beautiful way to be wrapped in God’s love. Blessings to those who give and receive these gifts. ❤️
Erin Weaver - June 17, 2022 9:49 am
My prayer shawl….it arrived after our son was murdered. It is a cloak of love.
Audra S Isenhour - June 17, 2022 9:58 am
I can’t knit but I quilt and If it’s an onery one that doesn’t make me smile I pray over it and add a note to myself, TBD. In other words, it’s home is to be determined. Other quilts make my heart sing and the prayers are sweet and they always find a home where they are needed to be loved. Many times I never meet the person who receives it, but I get a note or a photo passed down to “Nanny Sue” and I know I used the gift God gave me.
Katrina Butler - June 17, 2022 10:04 am
Oh, Sean this reminded me of a beautiful song by a Jewish singer named Susan Collins. It is called “Pray With Me”. It describes our joint prayer weaving together, becoming stronger like fabric woven together becomes stronger. She sings that our prayers become a prayer shawl. I love that imagery. I think you could google the song. It is so lovely, as was this article. Thank you!
Ann Thompson - June 17, 2022 10:27 am
🧶❤️🧶❤️all good. I hope you have a prayer shawl while your healing. I’m sure it would help.
Bobby Crew - June 17, 2022 11:06 am
Sean, I hope that you are doing better. I was lucky, had very few symptoms, back to normal. Your story mentioned that the ladies had “stark white hair, maybe a bluish tint”. That took me back to the late 1950’s- early 1960’s. My little sister, who was 3 or 4 at the time, was sitting in my mama’s lap at Chisholm Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL. and was looking at the little lady sitting in the pew behind us. Sister looked around my mother and loudly proclaimed, “you have the prettiest blue hair”. Needless to say, this pretty well blew up the preacher’s sermon ! Thanks for making me think of that.
kristiknits - June 17, 2022 11:15 am
Beautiful story. One of the big reasons I became a knitter
susieklein - June 17, 2022 11:54 am
I love this!
janet - June 17, 2022 12:09 pm
I know the power of a prayer shawl as both the giver and receiver. It is a tangible and tactile expression of love and caring. Thank you for this gentle reminder.
Holly Rabalais - June 17, 2022 12:22 pm
This makes me want to join a knitting group…though I can’t knit! My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress and crafter. She used to make baby blankets from the softest flannelette fabric and would handmake the lace around it. She also made little socks, I think, and she would donate to the local children’s home. Love for a stranger in tangible form.
Mike Fletcher - June 17, 2022 12:26 pm
I received one last summer when I was going through treatments for prostate cancer. I treasure it.
Donna Belcher - June 17, 2022 12:42 pm
Church groups also make prayer quilts that serve the same purpose! Thanks for your articles! Can’t complete my day without reading your article!
Laura Bracey - June 17, 2022 12:58 pm
I make prayer crosses out of modeling clay when God puts someone on my heart. It is the little things like prayer shawls, prayer crosses and hand written notes that shower the recipient with God’s grace, power and love. I so enjoy your stories and insights.
Lynne Garrison - June 17, 2022 1:05 pm
I’m the blessed recipient of one of these beautiful and impactful prayer shawls. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, and my good friend from Hillyer Memorial Christian Church was over almost immediately with her beautiful green prayer blanket. It means the world to experience such caring.
Vicki Parnell - June 17, 2022 1:07 pm
Sean, I have been knitting in a group or own my own for a lot of years. This post from you is very special. I have seen so many people who have responded to these prayer shawls as miracles in their lives!
Judy - June 17, 2022 1:28 pm
Wonderful example of people praying for others in an obvious way.
Penny - June 17, 2022 1:45 pm
The shawls are blessed with God’s love. I have both received and made shawls at Perdido Bay United Methodist Church near Penscola, FL with the best group of women believers. To God be the glory!
Patricia Gibson - June 17, 2022 2:04 pm
I received a prayer quilt from the Methodist Church in Canton,Ga. Each square has strings and it is placed in the sanctuary for prayers. When you pray, you tie a know in the strings . I was very ill and it meant so much to hold that quilt. God has many angels. I still have it💜
Patricia Gibson - June 17, 2022 2:08 pm
Knot. Not know
Helen De Prima - June 17, 2022 2:27 pm
Making something to help someone you may never meet is a blessing to both the maker and the recipient. I sewed more than a thousand masks during COVID, mostly sent to Indian reservations, and got to know some lovely people along the way.
Parks Miller - June 17, 2022 2:30 pm
A neighbor brought me a prayer shawl she had made while I was recovering from my heart surgery five years ago. I needed encouragement as much as physical healing. It helped so much to know that her Methodist church group was praying for me, in addition to others.
Maria Elliott - June 17, 2022 2:44 pm
Our church group made one for a baby fighting for her life. The parents, heartbroken when she lost her fight, wrapped her in it in her casket. The momma said she felt better thinking her baby was surrounded by something soft and warm in her little grave. Thanks for sharing
David Britnell - June 17, 2022 2:47 pm
What a great way to pass along a prayer – in a gift!
mollytoddmccgmailcom - June 17, 2022 2:56 pm
Our Episcopal Church here in Harrison, AR have made prayer shawls for a long time and have given away about 100 (I think–I’m not a knitter). When a shawl is finished. it is brought to church on a Sunday morning and is passed through the congregation so each person present can hold the shawl and say a prayer or send good thoughts or whatever. I received one once and I still wrap up in it periodically as needed. I have even loaned it out for special occasions–there is just something about these shawls!
Maggie Priestaf - June 17, 2022 3:06 pm
St Paul Lutheran of Dearborn, MI has a needle arts group that makes multiple items. They used to be called the quilting group because they make a beautiful patchwork quilt for each child baptized in our congregation. You have reminded me that I need to get out the prayer shawls given to me for the issues that I’m dealing with now. Thank you, Sean, again and again.
Michele Sandstead - June 17, 2022 3:19 pm
Hi Sean! For a long period of time, I headed up a prayer shawl ministry at Immanuel Anglican Church in your beloved Destin, Florida! We presented them to people who were sick or hurting, to graduates from high school as they embarked on their new adventures, to new moms or mothers-to-be. We also would include a small knitted pocket shawl with the larger shawl that could be tucked into a pocket or purse. I can tell you that as much as our prayer shawls meant to the recipients, it meant even more to the knitter creating that blessed gift. Thank you for penning this beautiful article! Hugs from Destin!
Kathy Gillen - June 17, 2022 3:37 pm
Such a beautiful article. I started a blanket club at the school I just retired from. Students in grades 4-8 came together to make fleece blankets for anyone in our community that needed one. There is power and a sense of joy knowing that one simple gesture can make such a HUGE impact in someone’s life!
Judy - June 17, 2022 3:55 pm
I carried my shawl to the United Methodist Annual Conference. The lady who made it for me was remmebered in te memorial service. I felt her near!
Janette H Campbell - June 17, 2022 4:02 pm
Fifteen years ago the women in my sister’s South Carolina church sent a shawl to me in south Florida on the occasion of the death of my 23-year-old son in an auto accident. That shawl sits in my living room today and is still a comfort because the grief never completely goes away! Thank you ladies!
Debbie Ker - June 17, 2022 4:08 pm
I received a beautiful shawl 9 years ago from sweet friends at Shelbyville First Presbyterian Church while I was fighting breast cancer. Such a beautiful gift from the heart.
Anne Arthur - June 17, 2022 4:11 pm
I received my prayer shawl at a Catholic retreat in Minnesota. They had huge baskets of prayer shawls in all colors, shapes, and fabrics to choose from. Everyone found the “one” which spoke to them. I cherish my light teal-blue shawl. It means so much to know that I am wrapped in prayers, spoken by caring people I’ve never met. As Jesus said, “Let them all be one, as the Father and I are one.”
Patricia - June 17, 2022 4:32 pm
What a precious way to pray for someone! May God continue to bless these ministries! What a beautiful way to share the love of God!
Debbie Todd - June 17, 2022 4:33 pm
I received a prayer shawl, after the death of our son, from the Bethel United Methodist Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. He was only 30 years old, and died from a brain aneurysm. The shawl is in his college colors. It will be 16 years ago, next month. I agree with Jennifer-the pain is always with us. But through the love, prayer and caring of others, we learn to move forward. I am now in a group in San Antonio, TX that makes a variety of knitted and crocheted items to share with various charity groups. Some of the blankets just went to Uvalde, TX. it is a comfort to share with others. Thank you, Sean, for this wonderful article. I’ll keep knitting!
Debra Todd - June 17, 2022 10:10 pm
I meant Janette, not Jennifer. I apologize!
Brenda - June 17, 2022 4:40 pm
We have a knitting/crocheting group in our church – First Methodist Church, Thomson, GA. In addition to prayer shawls, we make baby blankets, lap throws, and also small baby caps for newborns/preemies.
Suellen - June 17, 2022 4:42 pm
The ladies at our home congregation crocheted a prayer shawl for my husband after his stroke and my bff crocheted one for me when I was moving away. She said she said a prayer for me with every stitch. I shed loads of tears on both occasions.
Cathy M - June 17, 2022 4:53 pm
This is so uplifting and only God knows how many need to be uplifted today. Jan Karon is the author of The Mitford Srries which I am now reading for the third time. These books tell the story of an Episcopal priest in a small town and introduces the reader to all the people who live there. I never fail to be comforted as I read these books bc it is stories of how life should be. People taking care of each other and truly caring . I have a close friend who has made these shawls for years. For infants as well. What a wonderful ministry. Jan Karon also published a little red book entitled. Bathed in prayer. I keep it by my bed. Wrapped in love and bathed in prayer. Just saying those words makes me feel at peace. Knit away ladies and thanks to all of you❤️👏
pattymack43 - June 17, 2022 5:06 pm
The promises of an awesome God!! Amen!!
LIN ARNOLD - June 17, 2022 5:33 pm
And sometimes those prayer shawls aren’t shawls at all. For me, it’s crochet. I crochet well over 100 youth sized hats each year and donate them to our county school system for distribution to the elementary schools. No cold ears on those playgrounds, please. I crochet well over 100 infant/preemie hats each year and donate them to the NICU at our regional hospital. Since I donate them in November, I always include some Santa hats in the bunch. One year there was a picture of Santa visiting the NICU. He was holding a sweet little bitty sweetie that was wear one of those Santa hats. That picture made not just my day, but my entire year! I also crochet 50-60 hat/scarf sets that I donate to the national organization Operation Gratitude for distribution our military and our first responders. Yes, dollar wise, it can be very expensive. But I work the yarn sales well. And friends & family give me yarn quite a bit. And with each item I donate, goes a prayer for each recipient to remain safe and healthy. It’s my own private kind of ministry. I tried to get a group together for it, but it just didn’t pan out. But I keep on doing it. I guess you could say that I’m “hooked” on my crocheting. (And for those that don’t know, in crochet you use a crochet hook instead of knitting needles.)
AlaRedClayGirl - June 17, 2022 7:37 pm
Carol Wise Rose - June 17, 2022 9:16 pm
We don’t know how God will make his love known–sometimes in surprising ways.
Linda Moon - June 17, 2022 9:30 pm
I like Marie. I have a T-shirt like hers. And I’ve received a prayer shawl from church ladies up on the Bluff because of cancers I was fighting. Thank you to all who pray and knit, because LIFE itself is so very, very good.
MAM - June 17, 2022 10:22 pm
All these everyday actions happening all over our country, and maybe our world, bring us hope for a better tomorrow with everyone under God’s umbrella, praying for one another. What a wonderful world we live in! May God bless us all just a bit more!
June Bragg - June 18, 2022 12:29 am
What pattern is the most used for the shawls?
Susan - June 18, 2022 12:56 pm
There are a lot of knitters out there. All we hope and pray is that our knitting blesses someone. Kind of the way you bless us
Erin Pepus - June 18, 2022 4:17 pm
My Episcopal church in Montana has a prayer shawl ministry . When my Jewish husband was operated on for a brain cancer , my priest inquired about could Marty attend church with me soon. ( He periodically joined me ) That Sunday Marty was invited to the altar to receive his blessed shawl and my priest put it around his shoulders . Marty quipped the last time that happened was 60 years prior bat his Bar Mitzvah !!! The congregation roared with laughter. That shawl was with him the the 4 months he lived … and I have it still .
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 19, 2022 12:05 am
Carol - June 19, 2022 2:02 pm
I receied my shawl from a Luthern church in Tuscon AZ. I live in GA. It came to me from a friend when she learned I had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Three and a half years ago and I’ve beat the beast two times now.