Sometimes, when people are hurting or sick, the warmth of God’s love and the knowledge that their church family cares is all that keeps them from a dark day and instead offers one filled with light. Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church’s prayer ministry – and, specifically, their prayer shawl ministry members – know that well.
The ministry, started just two years ago with four members, has about 30 people who come out on a given night each month when they meet in the church’s social hall. And, for beginners who want to contribute, they are willing to teach both crocheting and knitting, said Marty Quillen, a member. The group estimates that they have given away more than 300 prayer shawls in their short existence, and not only to those who are ill or hurting.
“It can be for men or women or children,” explained member Debbie Hitchens. “It’s not only for when people are ill, but we have knitted them for joyous occasions, like a marriage or a new baby. It’s a full realm of emotions that we knit for.”
She explained that one of the notes of thanks they have received was from a family that included a picture of their prayer shawl draped over an incubator of a premature baby. Quillen said it was “very moving.”
The idea behind the ministry is not new. It is based on the prayer shawl ministry of Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the 1997 Women’s Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Ct., which has a Web site at shawlministry.com.
“I found about it while in Florida,” said member Nell Hutchins. “I went to a meeting about a prayer shawl ministry and found out it was a wonderful ministry for healing. Our church is very strong with the prayer ministry, and I could just see the prayer shawl ministry happening at our church, getting involved and wrapping them around the people while they were hurting. So we got a group together.”
The four – Hitchens, Hutchins, Quillen, and Sharon Palmer – started planning the program and organizing the ministry, but Quillen was quick to point out that it is really a higher power that has a hand on it.
“It’s God’s ministry,” she said. “He’s really been in control and it has taken us places we’d never thought we’d go.”
Palmer added that their “pride and joy,” is knitting shawls for fallen soldiers. They are part of a national group of 262 groups that have sent more than 1,500 prayer shawls to the Dover Air Force Base in the past two years. Palmer said the chaplains there call and tell the group where to take them and, because of Dover’s close proximity to Ocean View, they simply drive them up there.
During the knitting or crocheting process, the yarn is prayed over, the shawl is prayed over and then the final prayer shawl can be anointed. Each is delivered with a written prayer, as well: “May this shawl be for you a sign of God’s loving, healing presence. May it warm you when you are weary and may it surround you when you are discouraged. May it assure you of God’s care and comfort when your loved ones and you are in pain. May it remind you that God loves you and that you are surrounded by prayers of others.”
Grace Wolfe, a member of Mariner’s Bethel who had been given a prayer shawl during a health issue, said the fact that the church comes together to comfort those in need is really a blessing.
“The church is reaching out, and the prayer shawl is an emblem and symbol. And you can feel the warmth and love in that shawl,” she said. “I was happy to know I was being thought of. The feeling and caring and love that you feel when you receive that blanket — there really is healing in the warmth and fellowship.”
Wolfe said she also appreciate the other gestures of her church family.
“The church is very caring,” she said, “with food and calls. That church is alive and showing love.”
For more information on the prayer ministry or any other ministries at the church, visit marinersbethel.org.