Courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

WELLS — Knitting and crocheting are popular and soothing hobbies, forming loops from one needle to another or hooking loops together directly on a piece. There are different approaches, but regardless of style, it’s the shared mission of helping to spread the message of God’s mercy, love, and compassion that has brought people together at St. Mary Church in Wells for the return of the Prayer Shawl Ministry. 

“We stopped meeting when COVID-19 arrived and hadn’t met for the last couple years,” said Denise Ouellette, the organizer of the group. “During that time, Sue (former group leader) reached out to me and decided she didn’t want to continue with the lead role and asked me to consider taking it on which I agreed to.”

The group gathers on the first Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon at St. Mary Church on 236 Eldridge Road. The shawls created are donated, quite simply, to anyone in need of one. After they are made, they are prayed over and given to wrap, enfold, comfort, and lift up.

“They are available for males, females, and children,” said Denise. “People reach out to myself or the parish staff and ask for one. We place a shawl with a card in a bag and it is usually delivered by the person who requested it. Each shawl also includes a label that it was made by the ministry.”

Prayer shawls have been made for centuries to offer physical and spiritual warmth and serve as a tangible reminder of God’s care, encouragement, and inspiration. Prayer shawls can be used to console those who are grieving, comfort those who are ill, bring hope to those in despair, or celebrate life. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before the shawl is sent on its way.

The participants gladly work on their shawls at home, and there are no expectations as to how many shawls are made or the speed with which they are completed. The monthly meetings set the tone for the ministry and its purpose and serve as a great community connector.

“Most people arrive with their own materials, but we have a supply closet that contains some yarn that has been donated to us, and that is where we keep the finished shawls,” said Denise. “They are made with washable yarn and are knit or crocheted. The expectation is that one would join with a basic knowledge of knitting or crocheting, but we are available to help each other if there are questions about a pattern that one doesn’t understand. Our meeting also begins and ends with a prayer as we place our hands over the shawls that are completed or in progress.”

It is a labor of love for the givers who know their work makes a great deal of difference to the receivers.

“We have the easy part. I am able to provide a skill I like and enjoy and give comfort to someone facing a difficult time in their lives,” said Denise.

If you know someone who would benefit from receiving a prayer shawl, call Judy at 207-646-5605. If you are interested in joining the group, call Denise at 207-890-8660.

Prayer Shawl Ministry groups are held at multiple Maine parishes and open to all, including in Augusta (St. Monica Hall, 5 Kendall Street, Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon) and South Berwick (Our Lady of the Angels Church, 162 Agamenticus Road, last Tuesday of each month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.). Contact your local parish to see if they host a group or are interested in starting one.