The Story of Prayer Shawls

Making a shawl is truly a spiritual practice. The making of the fabric can be a meditation in and of itself. Then, there is the letting go with trust that the shawl will find the one who needs it.
Barbara Howard

Barbara Howard

Prayer Shawl Ministry Lead

The Unity North Atlanta Prayer Shawl Ministry started in 2005. I had been attending the church for about 3 years, and my husband and I had been members for a year. During Sunday services it appeared to me that many other attendees seemed to have close connections to each other. I was hoping for that too, and decided I really needed to find a way to be more involved and to get to know people better.


First, I joined the women’s group that was active at the time. The meetings were enjoyable, and I looked forward to going on a planned retreat. Through the group, I met Norma, who was to become a very close friend. We discovered a shared love of knitting and other fiber arts. She had even thought about forming a knitting group with friends within Unity North.


Not long after this, I happened to read an article in a knitting magazine that truly struck a chord with me. (I later realized it was the second time I had seen the article, but I must not have been ready to receive the message the first time.) The story was about something called a Prayer Shawl Ministry.


The article explained that this ministry had been born in the hearts of two women who had completed a women’s leadership conference at the Hartford Seminary. Participants were encouraged to create some kind of project that would expand on what they had learned in the conference. Vicky Galo and Janet Bristow, both knitters, decided they would like to make shawls to comfort and support new mothers and women with breast cancer. Although many people have made shawls and other items to comfort loved ones, this was a bit different. Vicky and Janet decided to say prayers and blessings as they worked, with the purpose of infusing each shawl with prayerful energy that could be felt by whoever received and wore the completed wrap. Over time, their work had become a ministry that appealed to people in many different faith traditions. The Prayer Shawl Ministry was spreading throughout the U.S. and even into other countries.


As I was reading the article, I could feel my excitement growing. The idea that fibers of yarn in a handmade shawl could hold and retain the blessings, prayers, and intentions of the maker seemed very Unity to me. This was a way to offer my service to others doing something I already loved to do! When I shared the idea with Norma, she was immediately on board. This was the seed of a new ministry group at Unity North. I had no idea how many blessings were coming my way.


The first shawl we completed was given as a retirement gift from the women’s group to Carole O’Connell, the founder of Unity North. As the shawl was being made, we passed it around to other knitters in the women’s group so they could contribute their own energy as they added a few stitches or a few rows. This was just the beginning of what was soon to become an organized Prayer Shawl Ministry at Unity North, focused on making and giving shawls of comfort, love and celebration.


Norma and I began to meet regularly to work on more shawls. At first it was just the two of us, however the Unity North ministry fair changed that. We had a table where we could show the shawls and talk about what we were doing, and our shawls attracted some attention! Soon we had a few more knitters and crocheters.

Over the years, we have gained and lost team members, but we have always been a very close group. Each new person who joins us brings something beautiful to share. This special group has always been a comfort and a respite for me. No matter what was going on in my life, I always looked forward to being with everyone. We have shared joy, grieved together and supported each other through many of life’s challenges. We have prayed, cried, and laughed (lots and lots of laughter).


You might think only women are attracted to this ministry, but we have had women, men, & even a couple of children come to work with us. All that is needed is an interest in serving by knitting, crocheting, or hand weaving shawls that will be given away. Experience is not required. We are more than willing to teach and have done so many times. I am always impressed by those who are new to the craft who decide to embark on their first shawl. It is a big commitment of time and effort, and we are thrilled (as are they) when that first shawl is completed. We celebrate together!


Making a shawl is truly a spiritual practice. The prayerful beginning, lighted candles, blessings given and received, the many hours spent in repetition as stitches are made over and over – these all speak to the maker’s soul. The making of the fabric can lead to meditation or can be a meditation in and of itself. Then, there is the letting go with trust that the shawl will find the one who needs it. Each one goes out with a little bookmark on which a prayer and a bit of explanation about it is printed. A small metal charm is also attached to the shawl. The heart shaped charm states “Made with Love.”


Giving a shawl personally to someone can be a very powerful and moving spiritual experience as well. If the one receiving the shawl will allow you to wrap it around their shoulders or place it on their lap, you often can see or sense a change in them as they respond to the feeling and appearance of it. There is a brightening of spirit, a smile, a sigh, or perhaps a tear.


We may or may not personally know the recipients of the shawls. We may not know exactly who receives them or where the recipients are located, but we do know they have been sent to loved ones all over the U.S. as well as those in many other countries around the world.


Shawls are available to anyone who asks for them. They are never sold but are given freely. The cost of the materials is covered strictly by donations. The person requesting a shawl, may want to make a donation and some people tithe just to support our ministry.  We are grateful for every dollar that has ever been given to this ministry of love.


In 15 years, we have given away over 900 shawls.  They are tangible reminders that we are always surrounded by the love of God, the Universe, our Source. Whatever your particular spiritual path, the shawls do not care. They will transmit prayers and love to you in ways that only you will understand.

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