As we continue to expand our notion of what adult faith formation is—taking it beyond the scholastic sphere—I’d like to talk about one idea that combines several aspects of the six tasks of catechesis. I’m referring to the practice of parishes creating a Prayer Blanket (or Prayer Shawl) Ministry. In this ministry, parishioners sew/create prayer blankets or shawls for adults or children experiencing serious illness or transition (preparing for surgery, recovering from an acute illness, chronic conditions, life-threatening illness, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, relationship crisis, high-risk pregnancy, miscarriage, and so on). There is nothing magical about the prayer blankets or shawls; they are, in a sense, “sacramentals”—signs that remind us of God’s presence and expressions of love, concern, and prayer from others.
Such a ministry addresses a number of the goals of adult faith formation:
- Catechesis teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ. The prayer blanket ministry is a testimony to the fact that the faith community relies on God and the power of prayer in moments of challenge.
- Catechesis prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church. The prayer blanket ministry builds and strengthens the bonds of community, drawing people closer to one another.
- Catechesis promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society. The prayer blanket ministry conditions people to shift their attention outward to the needs of others and provides a concrete opportunity to express concern and address those needs.
Here are some links to parishes with such ministries and how they describe it in their own words.
- St. Thomas More (Austin, TX)
- St. Mary (Crown Point, IN)
- Holy Trinity Lutheran (Lombard, IL) (This can be an ecumenical ministry!)
- La Purísima Catholic Church (Orange, CA)
- Mary Immaculate Church (Farmers Branch, TX)
- St. Simon (Los Altos, CA)
- St. Francis of Assisi (Tonawanda, NY)
- Epiphany Cathedral Parish (Venice, FL)
The prayer shawl ministry is one of my favorite ministries, my parish offers. If it wasn’t for the prayer shawl ministry, I don’t know what would happen.
When I finished college, I had to move back home. My parents had changed parishes (relieved at that time I had hoped for a job coming out of college) and not knowing anyone or getting involved with helping made church going harder, because I felt like something is missing.
As I sighed, reading the bulletin instead of listening to whatever was going on in mass. I came across the Prayer Shawl ministry. Knitting since high school, I had accumulated a lot of yarn. Enough to make a shawl and all of sudden I knew what I was going to make.
That following Thursday morning, I went to the ministry with a mission to knit. I came a half an hour early, afraid of what would happen. The leader was very welcoming and encouraging. She let me help tie knots in the prayer blanket. I had forgotten my yarn and project. All I brought with me was an empty knitting bag at home.
The second week or month (can’t remember), I brought my knitting bag and began to knit. It was very therapeutic as I still hadn’t gotten an interview for a job. Eventually, I voiced my concerns and the group listened.
The priest wanted to do a blessing of shawls at mass about five months into the new ministry. So I quickly prayed to knit faster, because I was a quarter of the way done. About an hour before my mass, my shawl was finished and first time in a while, I felt relax and at peace.
The person who got my shawl had a friend battling cancer. I saw her every once in a while and we would talk about how her friend was and that shawl healed her.
I got my first real job about six months after the shawl was done.
Changed parish again a year later, and got involved with the prayer shawl ministry. This one had only crochet and knit shawls. The other had sewing, knitting, and crocheting. This one was only accepting prayer shawls. Again, I felt kind of lost, but when my shawl was finished, I got to relax and pray. I do not know who the shawl went to this time.
Today, I am working on a shawl, or lap blanket based on a dream I had. It is one of those that can wear both ways.