United Methodist Church of Lenox MA
Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.
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Prayer Shawl Ministry


The Prayer Shawl Ministry Ecumenical Group  meets every other Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. rotating among three Lenox churches;  Church on the Hill, St. Ann and United Methodist Church of Lenox.

Call UMC Lenox (413) 445-5918 for meeting dates.

 Shawls wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and warm. They can be used for undergoing medical procedures; as a comfort after a loss or in times of stress; during bereavement; prayer or meditation; commitment or marriage ceremonies; birthing, nursing a baby; bridal shower or wedding gift; during an illness and recovery; ministering to others; graduation, birthday, anniversary, ordination, holiday gifts; or just socializing . . .  there are endless possibilities!  Check out the following article for more information and ideas. 


If you would like to request a prayer shawl for someone, 

call the church office at (413) 445-5918.


The Berkshire Eagle

Ministries with a mission by Jessica Willis 2007

The women sat in a circle, chatting and getting comfortable at what the Rev. Valerie Roberts-Toler called the "first knitting summit": a meeting of the hands, hearts and handiwork belonging to two local prayer shawl ministries.  For several minutes, her living room in the parsonage of United Mehtoidst Church of Lenox hums with talk.  A baby picture makes the rounds.  And then Roberts-Toler enters the center of the circle, with a plush dark shawl folded in her arms.   "It's going to Brazil," Roberts-Toler, pastor of the church, tells the 15 women.  "It's for a Portuguese woman named Rute, who was widowed unexpectedly."  And with that, she passes the shawl to her neighbor in the circle.  The clinking and the chatter fade away, and the room falls into a deep, restful silence as the shawl moves around the room, from lap to lap, and absorbs the knitters' prayers.  At the parsonage that night, Roberts-Toler's group, now in its first year, was joined by the 5 year old ministry connected to Trinity Episcopal Church on Walker Street.  Prayer shawl ministries of various sizes and structures exist in several Protestant churches throughout Berkshire County; Roberts-Toler estimated that there are about 35 groups in Western Massachusetts, and she connected the popularity of the prayer shawl movement to a need, in Protestantism, to behold a physical symbol of God's love.  We don't have prayer beads; we don't do a lot of crucifixes," Roberts-Toler said with a smile.  "But there's a hunger for something tangible, and physical symbols are powerful."  The power of knitting is mentioned in the Bible; Roberts-Toler cited a verse from Psalm 139: "You knit me together in my mother's womb." She also noted tha there was a Trinity stitch:  Knit three, purl three.

A decade ago the first prayer shawl ministry was born when Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the Women's Leadership Institute at Hartford, Connecticut Seminary, joined their spiritual practice  with their love of knitting; in 2003, the movement gained serious momentum with the publication of a book called "knitting into the Mystery: A guide to the Shawl-Knitting Ministry."  Co-author Susan S. Izard was Roberts-Toler's "spiritual director" when the latter was pastor of United Mehtoidst Church in Mansfield Center, Connecticut.  When Roberts-Toler became pastor in Lenox about 18 months ago, the prayer shawl ministry came with her.    "I loved it from the very first meeting," said June Tooley, a parishioner from Pittsfield.  "I knitted as a kid, but I found my creative niche with prayer shawls.  It has knit us together.  It's holy.  It really is."  Roberts-Toler wants to take their healing power "on the road," to places such as the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a women's shelter in Pittsfield, to teach others about knitting's spiritual rewards.  Shawls often are made for a specific person in mind, Roberts-Toler said, and in many cases, the person in need is going though a crisis - an illness of some kind, or a painful, life-changing event.  Shawls also are made for celebrations: weddings, baptisms, births.

"It's amazing how much these pieces of yarn can mean," said Carolyn Valli, a member of the United Methodist Church group.  "And when I knit, I think about the person.  You can feel that it's not just a blanket." 

For Susan Dana, of Trinity Episcopal Church, the socializing is fun, but the meditative and spiritual aspects are key; she said she wants to protect the ministry from becoming "a gossipy coffee klatchy thing."  Dana noted that her church's prayer shawl ministry is quite structured; the two groups of 15 women meet twice a month in the parish.  Chatter is reserved for lunch prior to the main event, and when they sit down to knit, they meditate in silence for 15 minute periods and focus on the recipient of their shawls.  Dana said that the Trinity group has made a total of 350 shawls over the past five years, and that the garments have a "spooky" power.  "I'm spiritual, but I'm not a lunatic" she said "People take them to chemo(therapy).  I know of women who won't let go of them, not even to be washed."  Ann Phipps, of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield, laughed at the thought of her 4-year old group working in total quiet.  "We've never been able to manage silence", she said. 

Still, Phipps said the power of the shawls is undiminished.  "I don't believe in magic, but they're special garments" she added.  "It feels like we've done a million of them."  She recalled one particular shawl, sent to a young mother who did not have any family and whose husband, in the armed forces, had been deployed overseas.  "The shawls are more than just a friendly hug,"  Phipps said.  "We pray the person who wears it will be comforted."