How It Began

Benedict Shawl

On retreat

I was on retreat in 2013 when the name ‘Dorcas’ kept popping into mind – until I looked her up. And there she was in Acts ‘always doing good and helping the poor’, until Peter found her stone cold dead in an upper room, surrounded by distraught women who displayed all the clothes she’d made for them.

I felt there was something here for me but had no idea what. Neither had my friends! A year later, browsing through my favourite wool shop in Broadway, I came across the first Bristow/Cole-Galo book of prayer shawls and knew this was it!

Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by colour, texture, shape, design but regarded them as frivolous extras in terms of Christian service. How could I have missed the point? Our creator lavished an extravagant variety on His handiwork. We are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in His very image. Creativity is in our DNA. Could it be that I no longer had to suppress what I enjoyed doing most?

Launch off

Once home I launched into my first prayer shawl. It had to be for my lovely friend Jean, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis and in constant pain. I prayed for her as the shawl took shape from a design in my head and existing scraps of wool.

A few days later I took it round. Not only did Jean completely understand the Christian symbolism, but was overwhelmed by the love and practical warmth. Her comment through tears: ‘I feel I’m being hugged by God!’ A few months later Jean died but not before explaining the symbolism to her family members.

Organisation or organic growth?

I was fired up about this new exciting ministry. With cupboards full of yarn, bursting with ideas, surrounded by potential recipients – I wanted to get more people alongside and share my vision. But the inner voice seemed to say just get on with it. So rather than ‘empire build’ via the church notice board, I made things and gave them away. This led to unexpected connections with all kinds of people. It seems most can relate to prayer. Others asked to come alongside so I started a group called ‘Loose Threads’ – which grew fast and has now moved on under another leader.

Woman wearing shawl

Finding a home

For a time the ministry was based at Mayfield Farm House of Prayer and Retreat Centre in East Leeds. Our ‘Shalom’ group met weekly to pray, listen, read the Bible and ask God’s blessing on the work of our hands – not just knitting and crochet but other things like growing stuff, gardening, cooking, sewing, woodwork and hospitality. During Covid restrictions, and since Mayfield changed hands, we have continued to meet via Zoom.

The Retreat

Mayfield Farm

Retreat Group

Shalom Members

The Retreat Entrance

The Entrance

Prayer blanket

Much used prayer blanket which lives in the prayer room at Mayfield Farm. Each square contains Christian symbolism, and the wavy border pattern denotes God’s never ending love for us.

Prayer shawl based on Jewish Tallit

Hand knitted prayer shawl based on a Jewish Tallit, with Biblical knots and tassels. This one was made for a leader of Ignatian retreats to represent ‘the hem of His garment’.

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