Have you ever wondered what a prayer looks like? I have a prayer that is warm, soft, and pink that wraps around me. It is a prayer shawl.

While it was being made, each stitch was filled with prayers for me, and every time I savor its warmth I feel those prayers.

It was a gift of God’s love to me through the skill and the prayers of the person who made it.

All around the ELCA, women (and men) are knitting and crocheting these shawls filled with prayer. At Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz., the mission statement of the Prayer Shawl Guild is, “We want to reach out to those in need with a prayer shawl of prayers and love to comfort, console and strengthen our family of faith. We want to be a reminder of God’s promise that he is always with us.”

At St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Beaverton, Ore., the prayer shawl ministry, which started with three people, is now in its fourth year. In the first three years a total of 577 prayer shawls were made and given. That’s 577 times that the love of God and the prayers of the people of St. Matthew have been shared with others.

A pastor in Pennsylvania carries these carefully crafted blessings in his car, never knowing when a prayer shawl may be needed as a tangible sign of God’s love in the life of a person suffering pain, grief or loneliness. He joyfully brings brightly woven shawls filled with God’s prayers to new mothers to wrap around themselves and the precious child God has given them.

A group of employees at the ELCA churchwide office in Chicago met once a week to knit and crochet prayer shawls. The shawls were given to a social service agency for distribution to those in need during the holidays.

They are called “prayer shawls” because the knitting (or crocheting) of the shawl is a spiritual practice for the crafter.

A prayer is said as the shawl is begun and then many prayers are added with the stitches. Most of the time the recipient of the shawl is not known, but the recipient receives the message that many people have been praying for them and will continue to do so. Each shawl is a blend of prayers, talents, gifts and grace.

The shawls are knitted or crocheted in a pattern of three, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Some knitters will say, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” as they work.

Crocheted shawls are usually done in a pattern of one row of single crochet followed by three rows of double crochet. The rows of single crochet separate the shawl into a pattern of bands of three. Finished shawls are 2 to 3 feet wide and 6 to 7 feet long with the finishing fringe. A prayer should be written and included with each shawl.

Shawls can be made in tweed, and colored brown, blue or green for men, and pastels or jewel tones for women. A shawl filled with the colors of the rainbow may be given to a hospitalized child.

Prayer shawls are gifts freely given with no strings attached. They are not for sale. They are gifts of love. Selling a shawl would defeat the purpose of the ministry. People wanting to help can make donations to the prayer shawl ministry of their congregation. That gift could be used to buy more yarn.

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