In 1998, Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the 1997 Women’s Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, gave birth to a ministry as a result of their experience in the program of applied Feminist Spirituality under the direction of Professor Miriam Therese Winter, MMS. Compassion and the love of knitting/crocheting have been combined into a prayerful ministry and spiritual practice that reaches out to those in need of comfort and solace, as well as in celebration and joy. Many blessings are prayed into every stitch.
Whether they are called Prayer Shawls, Comfort Shawls, Peace Shawls, or Mantles, etc., the shawl maker begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. The intentions are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before the shawl is sent on its way. Some recipients have continued the kindness by making a shawl and passing it onto someone in need. Thus, the blessing ripples from person-to-person, with both the giver and receiver feeling the unconditional embrace of a sheltering, mothering God!
The shawls can be knitted, crocheted, quilted, woven, or machine knitted.
How To Start A Prayer Shawl Ministry
Forming a Prayer Shawl Ministry is a great way to involve many people in meeting the needs of others, whether in a faith community, hospice, hospital, circle of friends, or knitting group. We even know of a yoga group that incorporates shawl making into their practice. If you belong to a faith community, meet with clergy and staff to see if the ministry could be introduced there. If you will be bringing this to the community in which you live, find a space that could accommodate your needs, such as a library, community center, senior center, or classroom for continuing adult education. You could also simply gather a friend or two and meet in each other’s homes. To invite members into your Prayer Shawl Ministry, consider the following:
• Place an ad in your religious organization’s bulletin; your organization’s newsletter; your local
newspaper; or publications or brochures sent out by community centers, libraries, senior centers, and
continuing adult education offices.
• Strive to be as inclusive as possible in your search for group members – extending the invitation to
knitters in faith communities different from your own opens the door for interfaith dialogue and better
understanding of different beliefs and cultures.
• Visit www.shawlministry.com and customize the downloadable brochure as a handout to give to those
interested in joining your group.
• Schedule a Prayer Shawl Ministry Workshop by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org to the
attention of Janet. For further information, see the workshop page on the Prayer Shawl Ministry
website for details.
At your first meeting, you will want to do the following:
• Decide how often you will meet – weekly, semimonthly, or monthly.
• Have a brainstorming session, discussing the style or format of your Prayer Shawl Ministry meetings and
who that prayer shawl recipients will be. Get suggestions from clergy, your pastoral care team, social
workers, parish nurses, or other members of your community. Remember that while you often will know
who a shawl if for, sometimes you won’t.
• If you’ll be supplying shawls to a shelter, hospital, or oncology center on a regular basis, inquire about
the approximate number of shawls that will be required. Decide if you will be able to meet those needs.
If not, consider joining with other Prayer Shawl Ministry groups to supply the shawls.
• Decide on a method for recording to whom the shawls are given and on what date. Because of
privacy issues, it isn’t necessary to record the last name of a recipient; a last initial will do. Or you can
simply describe the recipient – for example, “a woman undergoing mastectomy,” or, “a man having
Finally, although this is a ministry of the heart and based on prayer, there are some very nuts-and-bolts issues to address, as well. Although the following probably don’t have to be decided during the first meeting, you’ll want your group to find answers to these questions, too:
• How will the yarn and other supplies be acquired? Will you have a yarn drive? Ask for donations?
Will you accept unused yarn from knitters’ stashes or only newly purchased yarns?
• If you plan to purchase yarn, where will the money come from? Can you ask for donations from your
faith community or other groups? If donations are given, to whom is the check made out?
• If you purchase yarn, who will buy it and where will it be stored?
• How will the shawls be packaged, and who will do that? Will you include a standard note of
explanation with each shawl? Will there be a standard prayer or blessing attached?
• Where will the finished shawls be kept? Who will have access to them?
• Will the shawls be blessed before delivery, and, if so, how?
• Will the shawls be given to members of your faith community or organization only? If so, who will
deliver them, and how will the shawls be presented?
• Will the shawls be given to people from outside groups, such as shelters, hospices, and hospitals? If so,
how often will they be delivered and who will do it?
Because this is a prayerful process, remember to begin each gathering, planning meeting, or ministry circle with some type of ritual, prayer, or blessing. Encourage participants to write their own prayers or write a group prayer that will be included with each shawl given. Some groups begin their gatherings by reading a selection from an inspirational book or scripture and sharing their thoughts on it as they knit.
Every now and then, it’s nice to pass someone’s shawl-in-progress around the circle. Members can choose to add a few stitches or rows of their own of just hold it quietly, perhaps adding a blessing or wish for the recipient. At the end of your time together, invite members to gather around all the shawls, finished and unfinished, place a hand on them, and recite in unison a prayer of blessing.
As you continue to come together to share thoughts and insights, it will become clearer what direction your particular group will take. Remain open to divine guidance and don’t worry about to whom the shawls will go. The recipients will come to you with ease. Best of all, notice the blessings that flow between the knitter and the recipient and around your faith community, your circle, and your lives.