Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Comfort with a blessing attached

Prayer shawl ministry links members of Lutheran congregations.

On a snowy, midwinter day in the Twin Cities, prayer shawls of pink, red, maroon, lavender, plum, sea-foam green and multicolored yarns brighten the office of Mary Nordtvedt, parish nurse at Augustana Lutheran Church, West St. Paul, Minnesota. The shawls won’t stay long, but new ones will replace them.

Recipients of Augus-tana’s shawls have included bereaved persons, hospital patients, the dying, and those going through job loss or divorce.

Many Twin Cities area congregations have a shawl ministry. In October 2006 people from around the metro area were invited to Augustana to hear Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, who in 1998 originated the now internationally recognized ministry.

“One hundred sixty-eight women attended,” Nordt-vedt says. “Some came asking questions. Some wanted to network and connect. It was a great time of spiritual renewal.”

Prayer shawls are normally knit, or can be crocheted, in multiples of three stitches, using the basic pattern K3 P3 (Knit 3 stitches, Purl 3 stitches), symbolizing the three persons of the Trinity, or the three stages of existence: life, death and rebirth. Some knitters work beads or shells into the design. Finished size of each shawl is approximately 24 x 57 inches.

The shawl maker casts on with a prayer and blessing for the recipient. Prayerful meditation accompanies each stitch, and a final blessing is included [see sidebar] when the shawl is presented. Some recipients, in turn, make a shawl for someone else in need. The shawls are never sold for profit.

Bristow and Galo initiated this ministry as a result of their experience in a program of applied feminist spirituality at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. At Augustana it was born when member Bev Mooney approached Mary Nordtvedt with the idea.

Mooney encountered her first prayer shawl a few years ago in Montana, visiting her daughter who had lost a baby. Her daughter’s parish nurse had given her a shawl, and Mooney witnessed its comfort firsthand. “Mary already had experience with prayer shawl ministry in three smaller congregations she had served, and she was very supportive,” Mooney says.

“We invited knitters to a kickoff meeting. We started with twenty knitters and we’ve doubled. Knitters work at home, or in one of our groups, and the shawls go to men, women, and even children. We also have a stamping ministry. Members stamp the shawl recipient’s name and a prayer on a card, signed ‘Augustana Prayer Shawl Ministry.’”

People call to request shawls, either for themselves or for others. Knitters are invited to a semiannual appreciation event. Mooney and Eileen Wilkie coordinate the ministry. Says Nordtvedt, who also serves as a parish nurse at Lyngblomsten Care Center, “They’re my women of wisdom.”

Nordtvedt delivers the shawls when they’re ready. If she’s unable to make a delivery, one of Augustana’s pastors does so.

“The wonderful thing is, this is a lay ministry,” says the Rev. Mark Aune, Augustana’s senior pastor. “It’s one of those quiet, profound ministries that bring healing into people’s lives. We pastors are the messengers, carrying the prayers of the community to those in need. One man was dying, and whenever I visited him the prayer shawl was around his shoulders.”

“We’ve also reached out to the community,” Nordt-vedt says. “Through our ‘Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’ program we’ve given shawls to wives of military service persons who have died in Iraq.”

Some shawl ministries focus on happy occasions. For example, knitters at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, Minnesota, presented prayer shawls at the altar to graduating high school seniors in June 2006.

“Our Christian Education committee affirmed giving the shawls to seniors as a visible sign that the prayers and care of the congregation are going with them as they take the next steps on their path,” says Kari Lipke, past president of First Lutheran’s church council.

“I think it was a very cool thing,” Lipke says. “I re-ceived about half a dozen thank you’s personally, and the church office received two written ones. Many of the kids gave verbal or written thanks to their knitter.”

Recipients at Augustana send their thanks, too. “I’ve felt wrapped in love throughout this whole illness of our daughter,” one of them wrote. Another said, “When confined to a hospital bed, the days seemed endless and dreary. The prayer shawl has brightened my day.”