Trinity Lutheran group knits prayer shawls as part of ministry

Saturday, July 25, 2009
Ruth Kasten, left, and Eldine Engelmann discuss crochet techniques Wednesday during a meeting of the Trinity Lutheran Church Prayer Shawl Ministry in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

Trinity Lutheran Church is a month into its Prayer Shawl Ministry for comforting hurting people by a spiritual and tactile remedy. Their mission statement: "Creating prayer shawls for people needing to be wrapped in Christian love and prayers, during times of illness, loss or crisis."

When meeting, the group prays before beginning their elaborate work, then silently carries on prayers throughout the knitting process. The end results are soft multi-colored shawls to comfort the suffering recipients. The more experienced knitters pass on their knowledge to those learning for the first time.

Wednesday evening, the group gathered around tables pushed together in one of the church classrooms. Amid yarn and needles, the women fluctuated between laughter, good natured teasing and meditative silence.

"For the people more proficient, you can actually pray while you're knitting," said Patti Beard, laughing.

"You should have seen our first visit to Hobby Lobby," Carol Schmidt said about collecting materials. Schmidt has just begun learning to knit.

Sandy Meystedt knits Wednesday during a meeting of the Trinity Lutheran Church Prayer Shawl Ministry in Cape Girardeau.

When 22 shawls were completed the first month, the pastor and the women each lay their hands on the shawls and prayed over them and for those who would receive them. The shawls were delivered to sick individuals in a gift bag with a small prayer book and a letter explaining the gift. The women do not usually know who each specific shawl will go to. The congregation tells the ministry who would benefit from receiving one.

"The recipients say they feel the love of God," Sandy Meystedt said. "This is a way of comforting folks. It's amazing what it means to people."

The Trinity Lutheran group became acquainted with prayer shawls when Mary Rutherford, a lifelong friend of Schmidt and Beard, was bedridden while fighting cancer. Someone had given Rutherford a prayer shawl and the two friends were impressed by how much it meant to her. After her death, Rutherford's daughter kept the shawl.

Many in the group said they also benefit from praying and serving.

"It's sort of a conversation between me and God," said Betty Voss of her knitting process. Voss has been knitting for more than 50 years, having learned the art from her grandmother. "I stop to relax and think of someone other than myself. When I think of someone else who is ill, it makes my troubles feel small."

Sally Beaudean is working on a shawl in honor of her mother, who never learned to knit but would lovingly tease Beaudean by singing the knitting pattern refrain of "knit one, purl two." Beaudean's current shawl follows that pattern.

"It's a great way to share God's love," she said. "We're all thankful we don't need [a prayer shawl], but hope to get one when we need one."

One member of the group, asking to remain unnamed, has been recently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. She shared the comfort she felt having a prayer shawl with her and that she "felt like Jesus' arms were around [her]." She insisted that she felt much healthier after her most recent treatment compared to her treatment before receiving the shawl.

Twenty women attended the first meeting in June and the group has grown to 30, ages 13 to 90 years, including several nonmembers.

"We're amazed at how it's mushroomed," Beard said. "This is definitely something God had in mind."

Jayne Schrader is a member of St. Andrews Church who works with Thrivent Financial, a fraternal organization. Schrader obtained funds from Thrivent for starting the ministry, providing the group with yarn and materials.

"It's been fun to see it get off the ground," she said.

The ministry plans to collect photographs of each shawl with a record of who received it and the reason, keeping only the first name of the recipient.

The group foresees extending the gifts to new mothers, recently married couples and pocket-size prayer shawls for servicemen and women.

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