Ten women put down their knitting needles, pushed their yarn bundles aside and stretched arms across a table. They placed their palms onto the bright fibers of a newly knitted prayer shawl.
“Everybody, put your hand on it like we normally do,” said Delaine Collins, as she instructed them to repeat a prayer many knew by heart.
“May God’s grace be upon this shawl. Warming, comforting, enfolding and embracing. May this mantle be a safe haven,” chanted Collins, explaining that the new prayer shawl could end up in India or Africa or Mesa. She prayed that whoever received it will be “graced with peace and wrapped in love.”
For two hours, bundles of yard were transformed into small patches that grew into whole cloth, products of the Love in Action Prayer Shawl Ministry at Unity Church of Mesa.
“Women come together like the old-fashioned quilting bees, but these are women all interested in knitting and crocheting,” Collins said. Nomination forms to designate where shawls should go are filled out by church members or organizations that hear about the project. Collins reads each circumstance and specific needs to her group, then someone will speak up and say they would like to make the shawl.
Since the knitters first gathered in May, about 50 shawls have been donated locally. Recently, they knitted 32 prayer shawls for South Africa for women and children suffering from AIDS in a shelter. Knitters also make scarves and have created about 50 squares that will be stitched together to form lap robes for veterans.
About 35 knitters have taken part, including three men and a few children, and the workers average 10 shawls a month.
“Everything comes through the spirit,” Collins said. “When I knit something, I don’t always know who I am going to knit it for.” In time, however, the recipient is known.
She teaches beginners to knit, starting them out on the Lucky 13 scarf, which represents Christ and his Twelve Disciples.
“A lot of prayer work goes into the shawl,” said Jeanine Clampitt, 74, who was working on a baby blanket. “It is very calming, and if you’re paying attention to what you are doing, you are very focused. It keeps your hands busy, and I like that.” Many years ago, she said, a grandmother taught her to knit, but it had been 45 years since she had taken up needles. It’s like riding a bicycle, she said.
When Collins moved from Youngstown, Ohio, a little more than a year ago, she sought a way to make friends quickly.
“I am a person who is a stranger to no one. I love people,” she said. She prayed for direction. A knitter since age 8, Collins decided to introduce the Prayer Shawl Ministry, which was founded in 1998 in Hartford, Conn.
Bristow calls on knitters to be- gin each project with prayers for the recipient. “Meditative intentions are continued through the creation of the shawl,” ending with the final ritual, Bristow notes. She suggests shawls for people undergoing medical procedures, bereavement, commitment or marriage ceremonies, birth, nursing of a baby, bridal showers and rites of passage.
“When we knit these, we are mindfully thinking of the person we are knitting for,” Collins said. “We are putting prayerful intentions into that. We are sending love or hugs or just an embarking of our hearts to them for whatever they are needing.” When the shawl is finally wrapped around the shoulders of the recipient, Collins said, “that energy just comes back.”
Collins oversees two teams that meet every other week to knit together. Knitters often work on shawls at home. “We come together to be mindful that we are knitting stitches together,” she said. Through sharing stories and ideas, the prayer and meditation, they become close as a group.
“Delaine has such wonderful energy, and she has drawn to us here a group of women who are so dedicated and thrilled to be here making shawls,” said Beth Stevens, the church volunteer and events coordinator.
“I see this as having tremendous possibilities in reaching out into the world,” said the Rev. Joel Baehr, Unity’s pastor. One group made him a prayer shawl with a “very special weave, and Delaine presented it to me in front of the whole congregation, and everybody cheered,” he said.
Suzi Norbeck came to knit while her husband, Jack Thompson, a retired college president from Michigan, did some embroidering as a gift to his children. “I knitted for friends who have cancer, a blue shawl and a white shawl,” Norbeck said. “They really love them and wear them all the time after we blessed them here in church.”
April Martin discovered Love in Action on a Web site and joined the group to make a scarf for her sister, who is dealing with depression. “I love knitting and crocheting and doing things for people, using my creation to help others,” she said.
Donations of yarn for Love in Action may be left at Unity Church of Mesa, 2700 E. Southern Ave. For more information, call prayer shawl team leader Delaine Collins at (480) 203-2362 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.shawlministry.com.