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Prayer shawls comfort recipients

About 12 women from Chewelah United Church of Christ and St. Mary of the Rosary Catholic Church in Chewelah have been knitting and crocheting in the Prayer Shawl Ministry they started in February 2005.

They have made more than 150 shawls, which they knit or crochet while in prayer for the person who will be warmed by the shawl.

prayer shawl

Work team presents shawl to family in New Orleans.

The women have given shawls to people in Chewelah and around the world, including three delivered in New Orleans when five members of the United Church of Christ (UCC) joined a Pacific Northwest Conference work team assisting the Little Farms UCC with cleaning out and reroofing homes as part of Hurricane Katrina cleanup in October.

The Rev. Nell Lindorff, the former pastor of the Chewelah church, is also a former pastor of Little Farms.  Some of her relatives from there spent time in Chewelah.

The 12 women meet monthly at 5:30 p.m., on second Tuesdays or Wednesdays in the homes of members to knit or crochet, and to pray over shawls they create before they give them away.  They also knit or crochet on their own time.

Prayer Shawl Ministry members make the shawls as an expression of God’s love for people needing comfort in any kind of crisis or time of loss, illness, recovery or bereavement, as something to wear for meditation or as a gift for a rite of passage such as marriage or childbirth.

“Whenever we hear of someone in need, someone in our group knits a shawl and prays for the person,” said Verna DuBois, a member of the Chewelah UCC who is involved, but does not knit or crochet.

“We pray over the shawls for those who receive them and those who make them,” she said.

“We are also starting a hat project,” Verna said, supporting member Debra Morgan in making 25 hats and three pairs of mittens, which she delivered to the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery in Spokane.

Joan Blubaugh and Pam Vilchiz donated cards that are used for presenting the shawls.  Others help by donating yarn and money.

Barbara Kurtak, a member of St. Mary of the Rosary Parish and former secretary at the Chewelah UCC, said that in the fall of 2004 she was looking on the internet for sources of novelty yarns to use in knitting fashion scarves.  She found an ad for a book about making prayer shawls, Knitting into the Mystery by Susan Jorgensen and Susan Izard.

“The idea was intriguing, so I ordered the book,” she said.  “The idea of making prayer shawls appealed to me because the project is easily portable.  A shawl can be picked up and put back down as time permits.  Making a shawl provides a tangible focus for prayer as the shawl is made to comfort the recipient.”

Her church had a prayer quilt ministry, but that required setting up a sewing machine and piecing a quilt.  It didn’t fit her lifestyle.

“I gave the book on prayer shawls as Christmas presents to friends,” Barb said.

One was Nell, who saw the potential for a ministry to bring together different generations.  She sent out an announcement to find if some people would be interested.  Barb asked to join the group.  It became ecumenical with members of both churches.

“At first, we knew of more people who needed shawls than we had shawls ready to give them,” she said.  “We choose colors specifically for a person, whose need we know.”

Over time they made shawls before knowing the need, wanting to have shawls ready when needs arose.

“Shawls take more time than scarves—one week to months to knit—so the time and material make the shawls more potent symbols of the love being offered,” Barb said, adding that the ministry was begun in 1998 by Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, 1997 graduates of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford Seminary.

The ministry has since spread worldwide.

Jean Wise, also of St. Mary of the Rosary, grew up in Spokane but has lived 31 years in Chewelah, where she is a surgery tech at St. Joseph Hospital.

“I taught myself to knit years ago and it is a source of consolation and comfort for me,” she said.  “Knitting prayer shawls provides a sense of peace and a time of reflection in the midst of my high-stress work.  It’s a blessing to me to do this ministry.”

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