When Janet Kay Brown’s father-in-law passed away almost 14 years ago, a good friend gave Brown’s mother-in-law a prayer shawl. Intrigued by the concept, Brown asked her friend to tell her more.
After Brown’s friend explained that her sister had a group in North Carolina that made shawls, Brown began thinking about how special the gift was to her mother-in-law. It wasn’t long before Brown decided to get involved herself.
“It meant so much that someone cared enough to show their love in that way during a difficult time,” Brown told the Daily News. “I found out that was the purpose – a tangible way of showing God’s love to people that are going through difficult times, and I thought, ‘Well I’m retired, I got some time on my hands and God gave me a little bit of talent, I’d better be using it for him.’ ”
Brown soon formed a group of ladies – the First Baptist Church Prayer Shawl team – that has gathered monthly since October 2005, including an annual public meeting that took place Saturday morning at Corner Bakery Cafe.
While the group of 10 or more women usually meets at their church, Brown said the squad has held its June meeting in public for the past three or four years.
The sixth monthly meetings on the calendar now celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day, which is held on the second Saturday in June each year.
According to the global event’s website, its mission is “Better Living through stitching together.” That purpose meshes perfectly with a First Baptist team that has given over 800 knitted or crocheted prayer shawls to people going through the highs and lows of their lives – cancer, loss of a loved one, serious hospitalization or even the birth of a newborn baby.
The ladies get to choose their own patterns, textures, colors and sizes, which adds to the personalized feel of each shawl or lap robe the team makes.
“It’s just a way to show God’s love to people and that there are people out there praying for ’em,” Brown said. “We pray over our shawls when we know who they’re going to, we pray over ’em while we’re working on them and we have a little card that goes with it that just explains what the purpose is.”
The First Baptist team works with Prayer Shawls for Fallen Soldiers, a national group of about 200 small groups that ensure military families get a shawl when a soldier is killed. The team also provides shawls for dignified transfers at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del.
Brown said she has filled about 12 notebooks keeping histories of the group’s work, including a record of who made the shawl, a picture of it, who it went to, the reason and a thank-you note if the recipient sends one back.
“The notes are always so sweet, but even better than that is when you actually hand-deliver one and see the reaction of the people,” Brown said. “There’s tears, there’s laughter, there’s hugs. It’s just a special time.”
But doing paperwork, keeping notes and mailing shawls both nationally and internationally keep Brown pretty busy. “They do more of the shawls than I do,” Brown said as she pointed to her fellow members. “It takes a village.”
Six total members sat around the table, effortlessly weaving needles as they laughed and talked with their friends. One was Glenda White, an original member. White, who’s knitted and crocheted for 30 years, estimated that she’d made as many as 300 prayer shawls with the team.
“This gave me a purpose on how to give my talents to somebody else who needed it,” White told the Daily News. “When somebody gets your throw or your prayer shawl and they write you a note, you’re thinking, ‘Ah, they got it and they loved it!’ It’s real special when you hear from the people that received it.”
B. Kaye Beckner, another member of the team since its inception, said the group doesn’t exclusively give shawls to church members. Brown interjected, “Way more to nonmembers than members.” After Beckner agreed with that assessment, she added, “The giving is as meaningful as the doing.” Teammate Miki Wiseman agreed, noting that she still has the shawl given to her sister, who passed away in 2011 after suffering from ALS.
Betty Wilkerson has gotten involved with the team more recently, but said she helped a co-worker with throat cancer by giving her a shawl and a Bible the friend has since started reading. “She went bananas,” Wilkerson said. “She held me so tight – she was clinging to me like a magnet to the refrigerator.”
Brown was the only woman knitting instead of crocheting, but the difference didn’t make her seem out of place among her friends. Instead, it showcased the mutual love of putting one’s hands to good use that brought the group together and will allow them to continue making shawls for a long time yet.
“The fellowship’s great,” Brown told the Daily News. “When you’re in a big church, you don’t know everyone, and so we’ve been able to form new friendships with people we wouldn’t have known. It’s a big camaraderie, and we couldn’t do it without all these women that give their time and talent and their love of God and their prayers.”