Donna Wilkening

Donna Wilkening shows off one of her prayer shawls. 

When Donna Wilkening’s father-in-law passed away five years ago, she decided to make a shawl to comfort her mother-in-law. A year later, Wilkening's brother-in-law died, so she made a shawl to comfort her niece. Shortly after that, one of her close friends lost her husband, so she made another shawl to comfort her.

“I started realizing the value of these prayer shawls — there really is value to them — they’re not just shawls,” said Wilkening, who has been knitting for 58 years and was led to start a prayer shawl ministry after learning that a fellow church member lost her husband.

“I felt really sad and kind of overwhelmed thinking, ‘I need to make her a shawl,’” said Wilkening, who established the ministry at Rimrock Church in March 2016.

The ministry consists of about 10 members who create handmade shawls that are knitted, crocheted or woven, and prayed over, then given to people who are hurting emotionally, physically or spiritually in an effort to encourage and comfort them.

The recipients also receive a decorated, handcrafted card that is made by one of the members. The inspirational cards include an encouraging message and a Scripture.

Since its inception, the group has given out 17 shawls — two for men and 15 for women. There is no charge for the shawls, and group members supply their own yarn and materials. Most of the shawls are given to people who attend the church, but some members who have loved ones living in other areas, including Iowa and Texas, have received a shawl.

The shawls are made in different colors and sizes, and some are adorned with beads. Some also come with handmade pins to hold them together.

The members meet once a month where they pray and recite verses as they knit and crochet the shawls. Before a shawl is given to a person, at least two group members get together to pray over that particular shawl.

Kathy Kveene, who has been knitting and crocheting for about 45 years, has been a part of the group since it was first formed. 

“It was just a way to express love to other individuals in the church — to show them our concern and our compassion and to cover them with our prayer,” Kveene says of her decision to join the group.

She also says being a part of the ministry gives her an opportunity to focus more on her faith in Christ while she is knitting.

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“I tend to think it gives me more of a focus on Christ and on God because I don’t necessarily know the individual that this shawl may be going to, but I will contemplate someone who might be in pain or fear or distress or sickness and lifting up people,” Kveene says.

Prayers shawls are spoken of in the Old Testament of the Bible. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, prayer shawls were worn as part of Jewish religious customs.

For Wilkening, they’re a reminder of God’s love.

“There’s such a need for these people to be comforted and encouraged through these hard times they go through and to be reminded that God loves you, he has a plan for you and he’s in control,” she said.

Wilkening, who has 15 grandchildren, initially thought she would not have time for the ministry, but she says the Lord had a different plan.

“God just told me, ‘This is not your ministry, this is my ministry — this is not about you and how much you can do, this is about the prayer shawls,'" she said. "And so that’s when I went to the church and we started the prayer shawl ministry and it’s been such a blessing."

Marsha Balsley, who recently lost her husband, the Rev. Steve Balsley, who served as the pastor of Rimrock, says she loves what the prayer shawls represent.

“To know that God’s people are praying is such a warm blanket of strength,” Balsley said.

Wilkening is pleased to know that the shawls symbolize comfort and encouragement.

“When somebody loses a loved one,” she says, “they don’t have those arms to surround them and that’s what the shawls are a comforting, wrapping of the arms.”


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