Knit three, purl three, pray is the traditional pattern for making Prayer Shawls. For some, it represents the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For others, it represents the knitting together of mind, body and spirit.
Five area churches have Prayer Shawl ministries: Capri Christian, Marco Lutheran, Marco Presbyterian, St. Finbarr and St. Mark’s. Each has a different spin on this ancient tradition. The knitters and crocheters don’t know who the recipients will be but they all work with gusto, love and a prayer in their hearts. They feel God’s blessing as they work.
The Church Lady was surprised by the joy, vibrancy and color of this ministry. At the Lutheran and Capri Christian churches she followed the sound of laughter to find the ladies. Entering the room she was surprised by the array of soft pastels, vibrant primary colors and muted earth tones. At Marco Presbyterian a desk was transformed into a sea of soft shawls each begging to be caressed.
“When people are hurting a physical reminder of God’s love is very powerful and the warmth that the shawl provides brings that love to mind,” said Marco Lutheran’s Parish Nurse Gail Cacciola, who heads up their shawl ministry. “The shawls are a reminder of God’s love and by extension a symbol of how much we care.” They have been meeting together for more than six years.
The women who meet together have become sisters in faith and have grown closer to God and each other.
The ministry at Capri Christian is relatively new. Recently retired, Barbara Cowden brought the idea from her church in Illinois. They began in February and are going strong; happy to use the gifts God gave them to help others.
“As we connect the yarn, we connect with each other,” said Sandy Yacknow, who had once received a shawl and has lupus. “It also takes my mind off myself and my pain.”
“If you make yourself available,” said Capri Christian member Linda Mignogna, “God will use you.” Mignogna also had once received a prayer shawl and wanted to return the love.
“It blesses my heart to know that it gave them comfort,” said Capri’s Carol Kratz.
The Prayer Shawl Ministry at Marco Presbyterian is in its fifth year. They do not meet formally together as a group. The church provides yarn, directions and needles.
“If you can cast on, you can cast your cares away as you knit and pray for the recipient,” said Bonnie Seigfried. Although everyone gets the same directions each shawl is unique — unique as the person getting it.
The ladies in this ministry have an increased awareness for those hurting and frequently suggest a person as prayer shawl recipient. The shawls have been sent all over the country.
“It is a tangible connection to their church on Marco,” said Seigfried. It also touches the recipient’s family.
Vivian Yentes heads up the Prayer Shawl Ministry at St. Finbarr’s. Her friend Barbara Richard, who has since passed away, started the ministry.
“It really helps those who are suffering, those who are lonely and missing a spouse or don’t drive, or for a grandchild with cancer” said Yentes. “It’s a comfort; it helps them feel closer to Jesus.”
The church also adds a matching handmade Rosary. A priest blesses both the shawl and the Rosary and the recipient is given a certificate signed by the priest.
“You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to receive one,” said Yentes.
Donations of shawls and especially ones in masculine colors are accepted. They prefer allergy free yarn.
Yentes shared a touching story. She was straightening up the prayer shawls and noticed that they were getting low when Joe Richard, Barbara’s husband came in with a bag full. His deceased wife had put them aside and he didn’t know what they were. She also shared story of a women who wanted to be buried with her Prayer Shawl.
Cacciola shared a similar story. The recipient has since died but she insisted on taking her prayer shawl to hospice and wanted to be cremated with it.
“I especially appreciate all the prayers,” wrote the unnamed recipient. “It’s the nicest gift I’ve ever received. When I go to sleep at night I put it by my face and feel like I’m sleeping on Jesus’ shoulder. I feel God’s presence whenever I touch the shawl.”
There is a special connection between the prayer shawl ministries at St. Finbarr’s and St. Mark’s. Loraine Corr who heads up the ministry at St. Mark’s was a friend of Richard’s. They lived in the same community in Naples and the same town in Rhode Island. They would share craft ideas and what each was doing at their churches. Corr inspired Richard’s to start the ministry at St. Finbarr’s.
The shawls at St. Mark’s are blessed by the priest and are usually given by a lay minister. Jane Laird was given one in 2007 when she had her first bout with cancer. “I cried when I received the gorgeous turquoise and lavender prayer shawl,” she said. “It was comforting knowing they knit it with love and concern and it is very cold in Green Bay.”
Several churches keep scrapbooks documenting the ministry and the notes they receive.
As members leave for their northern homes they plan to continue knitting. Many knit in the car, on planes and in doctor’s offices. Some ladies from Marco Presbyterian went on a cruise together. They would meet in the ship’s bar to knit.
“It was a great way to meet people and talk about God,” said Seigfried.
Although many have returned north the prayer shawl ministries continue. Information may be obtained by contacting the five churches.
Kathleen Tuttle, a Marco Island resident since 1987, has written articles for various non-profits for more than 25 years. She is a community volunteer, former science teacher and microbiologist. Kathleen can be contacted at email@example.com.