For most groups meeting in the church, size and seating configuration determine room assignment. Not so with the kinitters. They can settle in just about anywhere, provided they are close to their storage closet, a nondescript hideaway over Cheney Parish Hall.
Inside, it’s anything but mundane. Clear bins of shawls, bears and prayer squares have been blessed by a priest and are ready to go. Another batch awaits blessing, really for the second time. Every piece has already been held in quiet prayer by the woman who knitted it, mostly in her own home against the backdrop of the sounds and activity of her life.
Few things are as heartfelt or sacred as a gift spun from raw materials and quiet concentration. The Knitting Ministry at Holy Communion has been turning out its wondrous combinations since 2004.
This summer, it produced its 1,000th prayer shawl. When it was announced in worship, the applause was immediate and sustained.
“There was no question about it. As soon as we talked it over, Carol (Duke) said she thought the shawl should go to Bettie Clemmons,” said Linda Christopher, a five-year member, a newcomer in this circle of needles and yarn.
In a quiet celebration of Holy Eucharist in the chapel at Kirby Pines, Christopher presented the mantle to Clemmons: “You are in our prayers constantly. This is for you in thanksgiving for all you have given us.”
Clemmons started the Knitting Ministry after she saw it in action while waiting for her pastor husband, Bill, at a church meeting in West Memphis.
“I had a back injury at the time and was sitting a lot. I knew there was something better I could be doing than watching television,” Clemmons said.
The church loaned her a prayer shawl to show the knitters at Holy Communion.
“I walked into Wednesday evening dinner and walked up behind (associate rector) Tom Momberg and wrapped it around him. ‘How does that feel?’” I asked him.
“He told me, ‘you get this started, and it will come under the pastoral care ministry'.’’
She did. A few weeks later, the ministry presented its first shawl to Rector Gary Jones at the annual meeting. Within months, they were getting calls from other churches, wanting to know how to get started.
Thirteen years later, 84 people have been part of the ministry, knitting into the church record one of its most voluminous ministries.
For years, the group has met one morning a month at church. In the last year, a Wednesday night group formed, including Kristin Powell. She was part of the Knitting Ministry before she was a member of the church or could even knit.
“I enjoy doing this craft and for it to be able to benefit somebody else is wonderful,” she said. “The fellowship is great. I’m glad we started the night group because I couldn’t make it during the day.”
Another nighttime member, Merit Williams, joined this fall. In two weeks, she had turned out 70 prayer squares.
Longtime knitter Carol Paterson has her own prayer shawl knitted by the group. She took it with her to surgery. When she woke, she was wrapped in it.
She doesn’t know who did it, but thinks a nurse recognized the value of the shawl. Paterson is emotional about the power of knitting in part because she often knits in doctors’ offices.
“It makes up many conversations,” she said. “I’ve had many people exchange prayer requests in a waiting room.”
Besides bins and bins of donated yarn and at least one shelf of books on knitting, the knitters keep meticulous, computerized records of their work, including an inventory of yarn.
“We buy yarn on sale,” said Carol Duke. “We bought $200 worth a few months ago. It will last three or four months.”
On average, a prayer shawl requires three full skeins of yarn or about 550 yards.
“There are about 12,000 stitches in an adult shawl, so you can see that a good bit of time and effort goes into each one,” Christopher said.
The knitters work closely with priests and pastoral care to get shawls, prayer bears and squares to people in need.
Last summer, when Dr. David Ouzts’ mother was sick, a FedEx box arrived on the doorstep of her rehabilitation unit.
“By its catalog number (and through the CHC grapevine), I learned that it was knitted by my longtime friend Sunny Ross. When I returned to Memphis the next Sunday, I just happened to see Sunny after the 8:00 service, and we took a photo of us, which my mother loves to this day.”
When Christopher delivered the prayer shawl to Clemmons in early September, she tucked in two knitted bears too. Clemmons had alerted her to a need.
“It’s for a baby born with leukemia and is being treated at St. Jude,” Clemmons said. “The baby isn’t doing well. Her great-grandmother is a resident at Kirby Pines.”
The knitters likely will never see the child as is the case with many recipients of their work. More often, one of the knitters or someone in the church knows the person and the need for a shawl.
“If mailing is the best way to deliver them, we do that, but we much prefer to have a personal delivery,” Christopher said.
Shawls from CHC have gone to England, Lebanon and South Africa, plus across the United States.
“Here’s what I love,” Christopher said. “If we’re picking out a shawl to give someone, you’ll hear someone say, ‘Does anyone know her favorite color'?”