By Lindsay Peyton
Knit, purl, pray. The shawls made at Hemphill FUMC are designed to provide a loving embrace to those who will one day receive them – and to enfold them in the grace of God.
Pat Friese, who founded the church’s prayer shawl ministry in 2005, explained that the hand-knitted wraps are essentially stitched together with prayer. At the beginning of each group meeting, members join in prayer, asking that the garment be blessed as well as the future recipient.
As the women knit, they stop occasionally to pray. “Every now and then, we will say a little prayer as we go about our work,” Friese said.
Often, they follow a “knit three, purl three” pattern. Friese explained that the number is significant. “It means something – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” she said.
Once completed, the shawls are placed on the altar. The following Sunday, during worship service, the pastor blesses each piece, as well as the recipient by name. “This provides the congregation a way to share in the ministry,” Friese said.
Requests for shawls are made by simply asking a group member or speaking to the church secretary. “All they have to do is ask,” Friese said. “And we usually have a supply on hand.”
More than 600 shawls have been created to date. Sometimes people come to pick out one that is already finished – or wait for a new one to be knit. Friends, family members or the minister then deliver them or mail them to someone in need.
A personal letter is enclosed with each shawl, explaining that it is steeped in prayer, Friese said. “We hope that it will bring comfort and warmth,” she added.
Shawls have been mailed locally, throughout Texas, to other states and as far away as Germany. A record is kept of all recipients. Some are undergoing radiation, chemotherapy or surgery. Others might be suffering an illness or facing a challenge in life. All are in need of comfort and healing.
Friese maintains a scrapbook of thank you notes. “We get beautiful letters back,” she said. “It’s so touching. You can tell that the person has really benefited from getting the shawl.”
She said that often the shawls are worn by patients as they receive treatment. One woman even refused to go into surgery without doctors making an exception for her to bring her shawl.
The prayer shawls also provide comfort for those who have lost loved ones and are grieving, Friese explained. “Nursing home residents find them helpful for warmth and comfort,” she added.
The entire congregation is supportive of the ministry. In fact, a recent church offering made it possible to purchase more yarn, which is always kept on hand.
Friese was inspired to start the ministry after discovering a similar one at her sister’s church in Alabama. “I thought this is something that we could do here,” she recalled. “We have a lot of ladies who knit and crochet. I put the idea out there, and several women wanted to do it.”
A national prayer shawl ministry online provided patterns, prayers and a structure for the group. Friese downloaded everything she needed to get started. “There was a lot of information,” she said. FUMC members decided to meet once a month to work. “We get together in fellowship,” Friese said.
The ministry has remained popular since the get-go. While some volunteers move on, others take their place, Friese said. “It seems like there are always new ones coming in,” she added. “We’ve been able to continue all this time.”
And members plan to keep up the good work. “As long as we can, we’ll be doing this,” Friese said.
Even COVID did not stand in the way of the women and their work. While gathering as a church stopped for about a year, volunteers simply knitted at home. “Now we’ve started back, and it seems to be picking up,” Friese said.
She hopes that the ministry at Hemphill UMC will also inspire other churches to take up their knitting needles. “We can give them any help they need to get started,” she said. “We’re happy to share what we’ve learned.”