Loose Threads Small Group
EILEEN SHARES HOW OUR INNATE CREATIVITY CAN BE USED BY GOD TO REACH OTHERS.
Three years ago on retreat, the name ‘Dorcas’ kept coming to me. So I looked her up wondering - was God trying to say something? Acts 9 revealed that she was ‘always doing good and helping the poor.’ But what struck me forcibly was the death bed scene where Peter found her laid out in an upper room surrounded by wailing women displaying all the clothes she had made for them. Was God leading me to make clothing for others? Extremely unlikely in this age of cheap machine made multi-production. I felt it was a message but had no idea what.
On return I shared it with my small group members who were also baffled! It was decided that the prompting must be personal to me - but that we should all pray for enlightenment.
It was a long time coming! A year later whilst browsing in a wool shop I came across an American book of prayer shawls. At once I knew I’d found the answer and a future ministry. That very day I launched into my first prayer shawl – for my friend Jean, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis from age 15 and now in constant pain. I prayed for her as the shawl took shape from a design in my head and existing scraps of wool.
Jean was overwhelmed! Not only did she completely understand the Christian symbolism, but so appreciated the practical warmth and love conveyed. Her comment through tears: ‘I feel I’m being hugged by God’! A few months later, she died, but not before explaining to her non Christian family members what the symbolism meant. She left a gaping hole in our small group which at that time, for several reasons, came to a natural end.
This left me free to consider options. My inclination was to put a message in the notice sheet and start a prayer shawl network. It might go viral as it had elsewhere! But something held me back from the ‘empire building’ type of approach. An inner prompt steered me to get on with it myself, just sharing the idea with contacts in my ordinary everyday life.
I found no shortage of people to make shawls for. They can comfort people during episodes of acute illness, hospitalisation, long term chronic conditions, bereavement - but are also great for celebrating new birth, marriage and special anniversaries. Commissions came from neighbours and friends. Never comfortable with personal evangelism, somehow it felt natural to share the rationale behind my new found creative passion. This actually led to unexpected and interesting conversations about faith! I found nearly everyone can relate to prayer.
Of particular note was a commission for a blanket to put in the prayer room at Mayfield Farm urban retreat centre. I wove in lots of Christian symbolism, but still was astonished to hear from my commissioner that it had been an instrument of outreach! A Muslim lady, herself proficient at knittng and crochet, was curious about the meanings. Impacted by the wavy pattern all round the edge representing God’s never ending love, she asked to be wrapped in it and invited prayer.
I shared the idea with my sister - who passed it on to her own church. They went into immediate production, designing small prayer squares with Christian symbolism, which were offered free at the church stall for the local carnival in conjunction with a prayer tent. Fifty items were taken and many people asked for prayer. A ten year old girl took a prayer square to put under her pillow because, ‘I’m frightened when I go to bed at night and it will remind me God is with me’.
Soon after our St George’s small group ended, I tentatively started another called 'Loose Threads' with a focus on prayerful creativity. Four of us met weekly to pray, stitch, undo, reconstruct. Was this really of God? Where were we going? How could this be a ministry? Where did it fit? Was it meant to fit? We quickly gained motivation, new skills and new members – after eighteen months, there are now eleven of us. We had one notable commission from a leader of Ignatian workshops who had been looking for something to represent ‘the hem of His garment’. We prayed about it, before adapting a pattern for a Jewish tallit stole. Ancient biblical symbolism was incorporated in the fringe and knots, and the inscription, ’Hear O Israel’ added in Hebraic letters round the neck. We sent it with our prayers and blessings.
Back came some startling feedback! Pat wrote: ‘A friend of mine who’s been going through a bad time in her life has been deeply touched through your prayer stole. She would not consider herself a Christian, but it seems quite clear to me that God is breaking through into her life through your gift’.
Mary, my former small group leader, felt that prayer shawls were not for her but now leads ‘Loose Threads’ on making ‘twiddle muffs’ for people with dementia. We resisted the temptation to go into mass production of items but have slowly explored individual callings. Knitting, crochet and other crafts place you in the here and now, freeing the mind and spirit for contemplation.
We also major on prayer. Our heart is for the world, the persecuted church, the peace of Jerusalem, our country, city, communities, churches and families. Another development has been to design our own prayer squares and circles, incorporating prayer beads, and symbolism to go with biblical texts, passages and well known prayers.
Since childhood, I've been fascinated by colour, texture, shape, design - but regarded them as frivolous extras in terms of Christian service. As a community of Christians travelling together 'Loose Threads' is learning otherwise. Our creator lavished an extravagance of variety on His handiwork. We are 'fearfully and wonderfully made' in His very image. Creativity is in our DNA.
This has been a transforming journey for me as well as a blessing for others. What a revelation to find that God, the master craftsman, delights in these things and can use them in us for his own purposes.”