Stitching prayers

The prayer shawl ministry was created in 1998 to knit shawls for people in need and the shawls come with a promise to keep the person in the knitters’ thoughts and prayers
Saturday, March 31, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:17 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
Common Threads member Ruth Monroe, right, shares a laugh with Judy Purtell while trying on a new shawl Monroe made. The group gathers every three weeks to knit and crochet shawls and other items to give to someone who lost a loved one, going through cancer, newly married couples and newborn babies.

Some of the women, their hands moving frantically, could look around the room, seemingly unaware of the shawl forming around their needles. For others at the table, it was a conscious effort, requiring deliberation each time the yarn looped around the needle.

The five women, members of the Christian Chapel-Assembly of God Church in Columbia, call themselves “Common Threads,” a name they got from the book “The Prayer Shawl Ministry: Reaching Those in Need.”

Belief in brief

This weekend Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday. This marks the first day of Holy Week and falls the Sunday before Easter. The holiday is in remembrance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, where many people waved palm branches to honor him. Many Christian denominations observe the holiday, but it originated within the Roman Catholic Church.

The celebration

Catholics observe the holiday by blessing the palms and reading the Passion of the Christ in Matthew 26:36-27:54. These ceremonies seem to have their origin in Jerusalem around the fourth century. During these times, the people of the congregation would hold up palm branches while singing the Hosanna in Matthew 21:1-11. In the early Latin church, followers instead held unblessed olive twigs. The ceremonies used to be much more elaborate during the European Middle Ages, involving singing and lengthy processions to multiple churches. The Roman Catholic Church simplified the ceremonies in 1955 and 1969, so that participants could focus more on the suffering and death of Christ. This shifted the focus of the Mass to the readings, as opposed to the procession. As a result, the Mass is more commonly called Passion Sunday today. Many churches will save the procession and blessing of the palms until after the Mass. Some countries utilize foliage rather than palms because of a lack of availability. Ireland uses the yew, and Germany and England use willow branches. Many of the churches in Europe bless flowers during this time in addition to palm branches. Because of this, many churches call the holiday “Flower Sunday.”


An ecumenical Palm Sunday procession involving downtown churches will be held Sunday. All participating churches will meet at 10:30 a.m. at the corner of Ninth Street and Broadway for a 15 minute service. For more information about Palm Sunday and Holy Week events, check Sources: The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 9,

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The prayer shawl ministry was formed by two women from Hartford, Conn., in 1998. The purpose is simple: people knit shawls and give them to someone in need, with a promise to keep that person in their thoughts and prayers. The shawls are often given to someone who is ill, or has just lost a loved one.

Common Threads, which met for the first time in October, meets every three weeks from 10 a.m. to noon in the dining room of member Judy Purtell. They begin by praying and spend the rest of the time knitting, crocheting and chatting. Though the topic of conversation could include subjects such as previous employment and the true father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, the chatter often focuses on the well-being of the congregents of their church, and the past and future recipients of the shawls they knit.

“My 15 year-old granddaughter had a classmate who had very aggressive cancer, and we heard about people from Kansas City bringing her a prayer shawl, and we thought, ‘Yes, this is something we should do,’” Purtell said. “The obedience to that inner urging that you’re supposed to do something, I think that inner urging is the spirit of God, and that’s really exciting for me.”

Purtell found there was a lot of interest in the ministry within her church. There was only one problem: many of the women did not know how to crochet or knit. Common Threads member Ruth Monroe had never crocheted before.

“I tried, and I took it out, and I tried and took it out again,” she said. “One of the hardest things to do is get started.”

Marilyn Logan, with a crochet hook and baby blue yarn in hand, said she is still learning the craft, although her inexperience doesn’t frustrate her. “I’m here for other reasons,” she said. “I’m here because of the prayer part, I’m not here for the crafty part. I like to pray.”

So far, the members of Common Threads have completed about six shawls, and have just given their first one away. Common Threads member Mary Hoover is giving a tan and white shawl, made by member Linda Thurman, to her sister-in-law. Hoover’s son recently passed away, and her sister-in-law, who lives in Maryland, is far away from family. Before giving the shawl to Hoover, all of the members prayed over the shawl together.

“There’s no magic in the shawl,” Purtell said. “But she’ll know we pray for her and we care about her.”

The women often discuss the healing power of prayer. Purtell said she always tries to have some scripture ready for their meetings to remind them that their efforts glorify God. “When you can give it away and people know you pray for them after that, that’s what works I think.”

While the members knit for a common purpose, they all have their own way of doing things. Hoover, for example, doesn’t make shawls; she crafts hats on a knitting loom. In the past, she has given away her hats to Granny’s House and Coyote Hills Children’s Home. During a recent meeting, she completed a tiny pink hat to match the baby blanket Purtell had made.

“I thought it would be a good way to celebrate,” Purtell said, “so we don’t always do things for sad events.”

The prayer shawl ministry has reached other Columbia churches, including First Christian Church, which began its program with six members. The group has 15 members, age 20 to 94, who have finished about 100 shawls. So far, they’ve given away 80.

“We have some prolific knitters,” First Christian congregant Mary Tompson said. “They knit two or three a month. I can’t keep up with them.”

The First Christian group meets every third Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon in Tompson’s living room, but they are considering starting a night meeting so that women who work during the day can join in. They’ve also tried branching out to men, with little success.

At a recent meeting, Clifford Tompson, Mary’s husband, teased the women about the lack of men — although, he said, regrettably, he couldn’t join because he was left-handed and no one could teach him to knit. Little did he know that member Sara Klockow, a sophomore at Columbia College, is also left-handed.

“Ever since, she’s been after me,” Clifford Tompson said, “trying to teach me to knit.”

If you are interested in joining a prayer shawl ministry, you can call Christian Chapel, Assembly of God Church at 442-2258 or First Christian Church at 449-7265.

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