SAINT MICHAELITES KNIT WITH LOVE FOR OTHERS
By Carolyn Barta
Often during Sunday morning services, communicants stop at a small credence table on their way to communion to place a hand on a knitted or crocheted prayer shawl, joining with clergy to bless the handmade shawls that will be distributed to people who are ill, confined or grieving.
The shawls are made by the Saint Michael Prayer Shawl Ministry, an 18-year-old organization that currently meets the first Tuesday of the month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. except in July and August. Ten to fifteen women gather regularly, although leader Peggy Carr has 50 names on her e-mail list of people who knit at home and contribute shawls.
“It’s fun to sit around and talk and stitch,” she said. But more than that, those in the ministry experience the joy of knitting a message of love for those in need. Anyone can come to the church and ask for a shawl to give to a loved one, friend or acquaintance who may be hospitalized, ill at home, experiencing grief or hurting for any reason. The shawls provide comfort.
“The thank-you notes we get from people who receive the shawls would blow you away, saying how much it meant to them to get the shawl. It’s made an amazing impact on the people we touched,” she said.
At the end of April 2022, the ministry had knitted an astounding 2,773 shawls. Each shawl is tagged with a healing prayer and a Saint Michael label and placed in a closet at the church for pickup. Donors are asked to fill out a form to indicate where the shawl is going so that more than one shawl is not given to any person. The shawls are free, but often result in donations. The shawl stories are endless. One knitter asked her grandchildren to give her yarn for Christmas. She made 13 shawls from her gifts. Another knitter died while working on a shawl. Several in the ministry finished it and gave it to the woman’s 16-year-old grandson. A young Dallas woman developed cancer in 2019 and was unable to attend her sorority’s rush at the University of Texas in Austin. Her sisters requested a shawl in the sorority colors. She wrapped it around the UT t-shirt she wore in her hospital bed. Some recipients come to the healing service at SMAA with their shawl draped around them.
Peggy learned to knit in high school in Memphis, Tenn., and has knitted, on and off, through the years. In 2004, a Mission and Outreach committee wanted groups to do something during Lent and asked Peggy to organize a group to knit baby hats and blankets for a baby hospital in Jerusalem. She said that sounded like fun and bought some yarn. She and others made 1,000 baby hats and some blankets.
In 2008, Rector Mark Anschutz went to an Episcopal meeting in Memphis and came back with the idea and instructions for making shawls for the sick and needy. The Prayer Shawl Ministry took off. Over the years, the ministry also has donated hundreds of scarves at Christmas to Jubilee, to Rosebud Reservation and Meals on Wheels. During the Covid-19 lockdown when knitters were unable to meet at church for a year and half, the ministry continued with knitters making shawls at home. One woman knitted 91 shawls during the pandemic through the end of 2021. That’s a lot of hours, as it generally takes 12 to 20 hours to knit one shawl. “Several said the knitting saved their sanity during the quarantine,” recalled Byrd Teague, who joined the knitters in 2005 and was a longtime active member and ministry co-leader.
A Prayer Shawl Ministry is not unique to Saint Michael. There is even a book on such ministries that contains patterns and prayers. It notes that over the centuries, shawls have come to symbolize shelter, peace, and spiritual sustenance, and says that countless numbers of shawls are being given to grateful recipients around the globe.
So why do people knit?
Research shows that knitting has physical and mental health benefits, particularly in calming anxiety and relieving stress. Studies have shown a connection between knitting and feelings of calm and happiness. The repetitive movements are often equated with meditation. It’s also a creative form of expression. Knitting with a purpose—to give a shawl to someone to provide comfort—makes it more important and fulfilling for the knitter.
Several attending a recent ministry meeting at Saint Michael can attest to all these reasons for knitting. Some grew up in a family of women who sewed and knitted and learned to knit as girls. Others learned from women at the SMAA meetings.
“I love the Prayer Shawl Ministry. I love the idea it brings people comfort. I came to know about it when a friend lost her husband and was given a shawl. It was many years ago. I literally just showed up one day. They gave me some yarn and a needle,” Corlie Storey said
Madalyn Teal learned to knit at 15. As an adult, she would knit when traveling for her job around the country. “Why do I knit? It’s a way I can be creative. It’s a good meditative exercise. It’s therapeutic in a lot of ways. And it’s important to give to others.”
Inspired by her grandmother, Gigi Poglitsch learned to embroider, crochet and knit when she was young but dropped these skills as an adult. “The minute I retired (12 years ago) I started knitting again and coming to the knitting group. I’ve made some great friends. Anybody can learn, and we are willing to teach them.”
Carol Roehrig knits because “it’s so calming and peaceful. I grew up in Wisconsin. My mother taught me. I sold my business in October 2021 and started knitting in December. My husband and I go on long trips to Colorado. He drives; I knit.”
Kay Stephens has great memories of her mother knitting, including complicated sweaters with characters. “It’s nice to know someone will enjoy what I’m making. It’s meaningful because it is blessed and handmade. Just a nice way to be busy when you’re watching TV.” Carol Hogan likes the Prayer Shawl Ministry “for its socialization. It’s a nice group of people. And it means a lot to the people who get one.”
Susan Pollard splits her time between Dallas, where she has grandchildren, and her home in Lubbock. Her daughter, Christine Paddock, a former president of Women of Saint Michael, knew about the Prayer Shawl Ministry, knew her mom enjoyed knitting and was able to put the two together. “Everybody welcomed me with open arms,” Susan said.
The Rev. Greg Pickens, Associate for Pastoral Care who oversees the ministry, gave a special shout-out to Peggy Carr and the knitters in the 2021 annual report provided at the 2022 Parish Meeting in March. “The Knitters are a group who give of their time and skill to create prayer shawls. Given to those who are ill, these shawls are a physical reminder of the love and care this parish has for them.”
The knitters believe they are performing a special service as disciples who give comfort to others in their times of difficulties, pain and grief.
But they also enjoy the fellowship of the Prayer Shawl Ministry. As Gigi said, “We have fun, too!”
Prayer attached to shawls
God of Mercy.
I wrap this prayer shawl around me like a hug that never ends.
I know it is a sign of your love and care for me.
Help me to always remember you are here with me every moment—even during sickness and sadness.
Remind me that I am a child of God, Loved by you and many others. Amen.
**This article was written by Carolyn Barta and was featured in the 2022 Fall Archangel.