It all started with an innocent status update on Facebook, a bit of banter online, and then conversations over coffee after church. I realised before long that enthusiasm was growing for some kind of knitting and crocheting group at Old St Paul’s. Some wanted to learn, others wanted to pick up their needles again after years of inactivity, some were already hugely skilled at the craft and were keen to work together on a project for a charity such as the Mission to Seafarers. All thought it sounded like an enjoyable way to spend an evening. And so, naming the group to reference the classic Anglo Catholic phrase, Gin & Lace was born.
We had our first meeting on Monday, and it was so much fun. We knitted. We blethered. We laughed. (And yes, we drank gin, but that was definitely a secondary activity. Too much gin and the knitting starts to go a bit wonky, and pulling out a bunch of stitches in a complicated pattern is just annoying.)
I don’t want to over think it because at its heart, it is simply meant to be an informal social group, and I don’t want to kill it before it has begun by theologically reflecting the life out of it. But as I looked around on Monday night, I couldn’t help but think the group stood as a rather brilliant model for ministry. Now, I must confess that what follows is in part apologetics in response to the detractors who have dismissed the group as frivolous ‘women’s work’, but I am also aware that I’m being somewhat idealistic, hyperbolic, and at times, stretching the analogy to breaking point. Nevertheless, kind reader, please indulge me.
I was struck by how much it was a truly collaborative group. There was not a leader or a hierarchy, and each person’s skills were nurtured and appreciated. Patterns were passed back and forth to be deciphered by the more experienced amongst us. Beginners were encouraged as they tried new stitches. Mutual admiration and respect were shown for everyone’s abilities. There was a kindness and camaraderie that felt real, not forced or contrived.
It was creative and joyful. We shared with one another the joy of participating in God’s own creativity. Learning to knit, working on a complex pattern, or carefully choosing a beautiful hand spun yarn encourages us to look for beauty around us, to recognise good craftsmanship when we see it, and to appreciate our connectedness with others and the natural world. But it also prompts us to consider the work that goes into making the clothes we wear, to think about those for whom a craft such as knitting is an impossibility because they lack the luxury of time or money, and to pray for those who have no friends to laugh with.
Which brings me to my next point, that knitting is primarily an outward looking activity, and, I think, it expresses in a small way God’s generosity and love. Rarely do we knit things for ourselves. I am currently knitting a baby blanket for my newest niece or nephew due next month. By the time I finish, I will have spent roughly 50 hours on it. That is 50 hours that I have thought about and prayed for and loved that child before he or she is even born. In the knitting group, we will knit hats for the men and women whom Mission to Seafarers serves, men and women we have never met, and who have never met us, but who brave storms and pirates and dangerous waters to bring us the goods that we just buy without thinking about how they got here. And as we knit, they, their families and the journeys they make will be in our thoughts and prayers.
All of this means that trust is built between the members of the group as skills are valued and nurtured and laughter and stories are shared. Conversations deepen when hands are busy. Friendships form. People feel connected. And that not only benefits the congregation but also the wider community. To be able to foster these kinds of relationships, to encourage people to recognise and offer their gifts, and to inspire those whom I serve to make creative links between the quotidian activities of their lives and the world in which we live are all part of the many great privileges and challenges of my ministry.
In a couple of weeks, I will be at our diocesan clergy conference where we will be invited to share something which symbolises how we try to live out the gospel in our context. Because of the reasons listed above, I am seriously – seriously – tempted to risk the ridicule and bring knitting needles and a ball of wool.