I knew the church wouldnt forget me! This was the response of a woman who was given a prayer shawl from the church in the Severn Loop parishes, near Shrewsbury.The woman, who now lives with dementia had been a member of her local church elsewhere: she still knows every word of every hymn.When she was given a prayer shawl, saying This is from the church, she responded with those powerful words: I knew the church wouldnt forget me!
Rev Mary-Lou Toop explained to me that she first came across prayer shawls when she was taking a funeral:a prayer shawl was sent to the family and meant so much to them.Seeing the impact, Severn Loop has started to use prayer shawls, which are knitted by local people and given to others in the parish, with the givers and recipients remaining anonymous.Severn Loop is a group of seven small, rural churches and even with very small churches in some villages, the prayer shawls enable people to engage in love-in-action. It is a simple ministry and its impact is profound.The prayer shawls have been enormously appreciated by both women and men: they are such a wonderful, tangible way of keeping connection.
So what is a prayer shawl?Theres more information in the leaflet [here / at the end of this post], but the essential elements are:
- The person knitting the prayer shawl says prayers for the recipient, as they knit.So the prayers are knitted in to the shawl itself, as it is made.
- When the shawl has been finished, Mary-Lou blesses it in church.This honours the person who made it, as well as the person who receives it.It also acknowledges that the prayer shawl carries a circle of blessing, so that it is a sign of love and prayer, connecting the recipient with the whole community.
- When the shawl is given, the impact is unmistakable and people are greatly moved by this gift.It brought one woman to tears: she exclaimed, Oh how wonderful!People are moved when they receive the gift of a prayer shawl.
The prayer shawl is a strong sign of love and connection and it goes deeper than any words.For anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable or alone, wrapping the prayer shawl around their shoulders allows the prayers and the love to surround them.
For anyone who is feeling fragmented, the prayer shawl can hold them, helping them to know the security of Gods love.What a wonderful sign of God re-membering us - the re-membering that is the opposite of dis-membering: it can help to put us back together, in the way that Humpty Dumpty needed, after falling off the wall!Even when we are torn apart in ways we cant understand or resolve, God re-members us, helps to put us back together.So, in a profound sense, the shawl connects us with one another, allowing us together to become the body of Christ: in the way that we re-member Jesus whenever we share Holy Communion, the shawl can connect us and help us to recognise Jesus living presence among us.
When memory fragments, as dementia advances, the prayer shawl is a tangible reminder that God holds us in his memory: he remembers us whether or not we remember him. God says, I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49: 15-16).
And a prayer shawl is not just for those living with dementia: it can be a lovely gift for anyone.