Prayer Shawls Comfort Grieving Military Families

Volunteers knit and crochet for the loved ones of fallen soldiers.

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- Posted on Sep 9, 2019

Photo credit: Vince Lambert

Robin Lambert has knit an astonishing number of prayer shawls in the last two decades. “I’d say that I’m in the 2,500-plus range at this point,” she says. “Nowadays I make about three shawls every two weeks.”

There’s no vacation from knitting for Robin. She works on the shawls in the car, after dinner, on vacation cruises—pretty much anywhere. But she stays motivated by her mission. Along with her husband Vince, Robin runs Prayer Shawls 4 Fallen Soldiers, a national ministry that matches volunteer knitters with families grieving the loss of a loved one in the military. The knitters (and sometimes crocheters) craft a custom shawl, pray over it during the entire process, write a personal note and then ensure that it is delivered to those in need.

“The shawl offers comfort and support and also reminds the family that their sacrifice is acknowledged and appreciated,” says Robin.

Originally started by Cozette Haggerty in 2006, while her daughter was serving in Iraq, the group has delivered an estimated 8,352 shawls to almost every state in the country. The Alabama-based Lamberts, who took over operations in 2014, are constantly updating the database of volunteers, who currently number about 250.  “About 50 percent are church groups and the others are individuals,” she says.

This ministry follows the model set by Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the 1997 Women’s Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. In the past 21 years, these two powerhouses have helped hundreds of prayer shawl ministries spring up around the country. In addition, they maintain a robust website with patterns, prayers and many other resources.

The Lamberts maintain a website with basic information about the military-focused program, including a link for people to request shawls. “Still, finding the families and offering them the shawls usually requires a little detective work,” says Robin. “We get the Pentagon’s casualty list for the Army and then we can try to trace a soldier to a geographic area; then we find the funeral home and send them a fax letting them know we will make a shawl for the family. Or sometimes we read a blurb in a newspaper and that will give us a hint on how to track down the family.”

The ministry also provides shawls to the Friends of the Fallen, a volunteer group that attends the “dignified transfer” of deceased military service members at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base.  “These volunteers tell us that the families are so grateful,” says Robin. “They love that it is a handmade gift by an American who cares about them and their family.

Family members sometimes make specific requests. “One year orange was the hot color or maybe  somebody wants blue for their son’s eyes,” says Robin. “Others are feeling patriotic and want camouflage or red,white and blue. We pass along all requests, but we can’t promise anything.”

Usually, though, the volunteers will do everything they can to accommodate the hurting loved ones.  “They may shop for two weeks to get the right yarn. One church group in Alabama made one in black and gold, the Army’s colors, for a grieving mother. Now, they keep a few shawls in the colors of all the service branches. They think it is important to have them on hand.”

One of the most elaborate prayer shawl is likely the crochet Gold Star shawl; the pattern was developed by a nurse volunteer in Illinois. “There’s a lot of detailed work to get the star just right in the middle and the red border just perfect. She says it takes her three months to complete one.”

The Lamberts volunteer for a variety of different causes. “But the prayer shawls are the only thing we’ve ever done where the recipients want to receive the shawls and the knitters want to make them. You don’t have to beg anybody. It is so cool to be a part of this ministry.”

Robin adds that the volunteers also seem to think the hard work is worth it. “First of all, we get beautiful thank you letters,” says Robin. “A grandmother in Illinois wrote: ‘The shawl remains on the back of my couch and I do find comfort in it.’ Recently, a mother called and left a message. She said that she has not slept since she lost her son, but now that she has her shawl, she wraps herself up in it and can finally sleep through the night.”

To learn how you can become a volunteer or to request a Prayer Shawl for the family or loved one of a fallen soldier, please visit https://ps4fs.org.

The Gold Star Prayer Shawl, designed by Cheryl Scallon of Tinley Park, Il., is often given to families of fallen soldiers at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base.
Tags: Prayer
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