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.”