KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Arthur was in his 90s and for months had been in and out of Providence Medical Center.
When he became critically ill, he received a prayer shawl.
“He felt that it was a tangible sign that the Lord was with him,” said Chaplain Josie Sandoval, who presented the gift. Arthur died recently.
The shawl came from a Prayer Shawl group that gathers at Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan.
The group is sponsored by the Shepherd’s Center of Kansas City, Kan., a multicultural nonprofit branch of the national organization that promotes programs for the aging.
For the past 2 1/2 years, participants have been knitting and crocheting at home, then gathering for two hours once a month at Trinity to bring their shawls and work together.
The shawls are rectangular or triangular and come in a multitude of color combinations. The yarn is donated from various sources.
Each has a note that says: “May this prayer shawl enfold you in warmth, comfort, healing and peace. And may God bless you with his healing touch.”
Most are given to the seriously ill at the hospital, after a chaplain blesses them.
Joan Daniels of Kansas City, Kan., who organized the group, sees the shawls as delivering a warm hug.
“The recipients know that someone in their community is concerned about them and wants them to feel loved in what may be a very difficult time,” she said.
When Daniels presented the shawl idea to Linda Siemens, executive director of the Shepherd’s Center, Siemens knew immediately that it was a wonderful idea.
The Trinity group, which produces about 60 shawls a year, includes people from throughout the area.
Daniels recalled hearing about one patient who received a shawl. The patient didn’t think she was going to make it, but she did, and the shawl became precious to her. Volunteers say that sometimes when a patient dies, a relative will keep the shawl in memory of the loved one.
“I had no way of knowing the program would be this great,” Siemens said.
Sandoval has given shawls to many patients.
“Most of the time they are so overwhelmed with gratitude, and they tear up. I tell them every stitch is a prayer and that the shawl was made especially for them. Some have been so sick, they are grateful for any act of kindness.
“They wrap up in them, over their shoulders, over their heads. Some have chosen to be buried with them.
“I have gone to wakes and funerals and seen the person wrapped up in the casket with their shawl.”
It is an important ministry that “fits our mission to extend the blessing of God,” said Joan Frost, volunteer services regional manager for the hospitals that are part of the Sisters of Charity Health System, which includes Providence.
But at a recent meeting of the Trinity group, it was evident that the patients aren’t the only ones blessed by the ministry. The volunteers are as well.
All senior citizens, they help one another and tease one another about color choices and stitches.
At a meeting this month, Daniels, 69, helped Myrtle Thoele, 84, of Welborn Community Church, with a triangular shawl. Thoele rubbed her forehead and said it wasn’t going right. But Daniels told her what to do and added that Thoele has great color sense.
Thoele took up knitting at age 70.
“My grandmother tried to teach me, but I wasn’t interested,” she said. “I just wanted to play.”
Betty Lloyd, 84, of University United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan., has been crocheting for 65 years.
“I started making things for myself,” she said. “I learned by looking at a book. Then I started making shawls for shut-ins.
“I sent one to someone on a Monday, she received it on a Tuesday and died on that Thursday,” Lloyd said. “Her daughter kept the shawl in memory of her mother and keeps it on the back of her own chair.”
Arlene Long, 78, and her sister, Lillian McCord, 91, both members of Eighth Street Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan., sat next to each other and liked to observe what the other was doing.
Long said her mother had taught her how to crochet, but she quit as she got older. Then her sister encouraged her to come to the group, and Lloyd taught her how to read a pattern.
McCord knits and crochets but likes crocheting better because it goes faster.
“I’ve been doing it for so long, I can’t remember,” she said
Alpha Lewis, 73, a member of Second Baptist Church of Argentine, said she was working at St. Luke’s Hospital 15 years ago when she observed a co-worker knitting on her breaks. She asked her to teach her, and Lewis has been knitting and crocheting ever since.
“It is something I’d always wanted to do, and I really like it,” she said. “It soothes your mind and relaxes you.
“Then after you see what your project looks like (when completed) you can be proud of yourself.
“And to give it away, that really makes you feel good, to know you will help someone.”