Stitches in time

Saturday, November 1, 2003

As Becky Zieske holds her circular knitting needle, she wraps the yarn around her fingers and works it into a stitch. Eventually those stitches form a row and the rows come together to create a prayer shawl.

As she works, Zieske is praying for a niece in Minnesota who has cancer.

She doesn't knit so that the craft will take her mind off the crisis, but so that the blanket she's knitting will help comfort her niece at the hospital.

Zieske is a member of the knitting circle at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau. Whatever the reason, whomever the recipient, the prayer shawls are helping to share Jesus' love in ways that words and touches do not.

The shawls are shared with people all around Southeast Missouri and across the country. Each woman who knits a shawl either has a recipient selected or simply knits one that becomes ready when a person's need is discovered.

Monday ritual

Almost every Monday, eight women gather midmorning at Pat Klein's home in Jackson to knit. As they work, the women share compliments about the worship music Sunday and chat about the service. They stop for a break when a tea kettle whistles on the stove. At noon, the women often choose a nearby restaurant for lunch before calling their work and fellowship to a close.

Of course, they'll continue to knit at home during the week -- in the few minutes they can set aside after dinner or during a favorite TV show.

Nancy Moreton is knitting a prayer shawl for her son who is away at college missing the connections of family and church.

Another woman plans to share her knitted shawl with a friend who heard about a woman in a yoga class whose husband was injured in a biking accident and is in a St. Louis hospital.

Each blanket is made in the same "waterfall" pattern, which doesn't require much concentration once you learn the stitching count.

Klein taught most of the women in the group how to knit so they could join the Monday fellowship group. Only a few women in the church knew how to knit when Klein suggested that a group form to make the prayer shawls. She'd read about it in a denomination magazine and thought it would be a good ministry opportunity for the church.

After about a month and a half of lessons, she was ready to turn her students loose with the task of making a shawl.

Each knitter uses the same type of yarn but chooses the colors they'd prefer for the knitted blanket. Some like to work with solids, others like to make stripes, and a few even use the remnants of other yarn skeins to complete a finished product.

Most of the women have made between six and eight prayer shawls each since February.

Deeper values

Although the women who knit these blankets say they use the least expensive yarn they can find, the value of the prayer shawls comes in other ways.

About 80 percent of the shawls knitted since February have been given to people with cancer or other terminal illnesses. Only a few have been given to people in the church.

The blankets, which measure 5 feet by 4 feet, go out as names of those in need come in from church members, their friends, neighbors, or relatives who've heard about a person with a need.

There isn't any price tag that accompanies a shawl. It's a gift given freely.

Klein has seen one of the blankets buried with a woman whose body was overcome by cancer. "That prayer shawl went everywhere with her," she said. "When they had her funeral in New York, it was in the casket with her."

For many people who receive the blankets, "they are a tangible reminder that they aren't alone in their sickbed," Klein said.

Each blanket is knitted together with a prayer. As the yarn begins to take its shape, the knitter says a prayer for the person who will receive her work. Once the blankets are complete, they're taken to St. Mark Lutheran Church and lain across the altar railing for prayer and blessing.

"They're included in the prayers of the church and as people come up to kneel, they can pray for the recipient," said Pat Klein, whose husband, Robert, is pastor. "We just feel like they get a special blessing."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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