A dozen members of the “Love Stitchers” gathered last week in Bev Melville’s living room in Locke’s Mills, took out knitting needles or crochet hooks and yarn, and got down to business.

Laughter filled the room as they shared stories and jokes, coffee and fellowship, but they were aware that they were also engaged in serious work: that of providing comfort and solace to people in need.

Meeting weekly in members’ homes, the Love Stitchers create prayer shawls for members of their communities who struggle with loneliness, illness, or grief.

Some also knit or crochet projects for other charitable causes, such as blankets for a women’s shelter or mittens to be given to children who come to school without them.

They recently completed their twentieth prayer shawl, destined for a community member who has entered long-term residential care.

Comprised of members of the West Parish Congregational Church and the Locke’s Mills Union Church, the Love Stitchers got their start prior to the 2013 General Synod of the United Church of Christ.

At that time, members of UCC congregations throughout the country were being asked to contribute brightly-colored handmade scarves, to be given to delegates and visitors at the biennial meeting.

The rainbow of scarves symbolized inclusion, and the General Synod attendees’ pledge to take action against bullying, particularly against members of the LGBT community. The initial goal was to collect 3,000 scarves, but a total of more than 10,000 were donated and distributed.

After discovering the energy and fellowship that resulted from coming together to create scarves for the General Synod, the local group wanted to keep it going.

They realized that there were many members of their communities who were lonely or suffering, and they hit on the idea of creating prayer shawls, also known as comfort shawls, to pass on to those in need.

“People who have received them comment on how they wrap themselves in the shawl and feel the love that surrounds them,” said Lida Iles of Bethel.

Members of the West Parish Congregational Church bring their completed shawls to a weekly prayer group, which is held at the church each Tuesday morning at 8:00. There, the shawls are passed through the hands of the prayer group members and receive a personal blessing from each before being delivered to the recipient.

Melville, the organist at the Locke’s Mills Union Church, said that blessing the shawls has become a moving part of her church’s regular Sunday morning service.

“After the passing of the peace, all the members of the congregation, even the little ones, come up and place their hands on the shawl,” she said. “Then [Pastor] Sondra [Withey] says a prayer.”

Louise Lovejoy of Bethel is a member of the Love Stitchers who is herself currently undergoing cancer treatments. She has experienced firsthand the comfort the shawls can bring to their recipients.

“I received a shawl myself, and I take it with me to all of my chemotherapy appointments,” she said.

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