woolIt 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.

3 thoughts on “gin & lace: the knitting group as model for ministry

  1. I think knitting is becoming more popular again. I have recently picked up the knitting I started about 25 years ago and young visitors were impressed. The Argentinian friend said he could knit and liked to do it!

  2. A similar group began in Kirkcaldy when the Reverend Christine Fraser became Rector recently. At her installation she offered a reflection on knitting, where she took as a metaphor for community, the interconnectedness of every stich in a piece. Perhaps there already was a knitting group before Christine’s time and she joined it, or perhaps her passion for knitting started it: others can comment on that. The knitting group brought ‘prayer squares’ to our diocesan Gathering in June for incorporation in pieces of artwork and in late summer, they gave a blanket to our Bishop David before he started his medical treatment. They gave one to my son Louis and me when we attended Carol Latimer’s Licensing. It’s as Kate says: every piece of knitting is filled with prayer before it is even gifted. As I tuck Louis up in bed at night time and lay the prayer blanket over him, we are surrounded by that love and prayer before we join our own Lords Prayer and ‘Angel of God’ with it. When Louis is back in his home in Glasgow, the blanket hangs on my bedhead as a reminder that he will be home again soon and that prayer surrounds him in the meanwhile.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Jean and Kate. Jean, I have plans to blog about why I think crafts like knitting are becoming popular once again. But I’m struggling to find the time to think through it properly at the moment! Kate, what amazingly beautiful gifts from the knitting group both to +David and to you. Thank you so much for sharing that here.

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