Churches offer prayer shawls to survivors

Churches offer prayer shawls to survivors
Anglican, United and Presbyterian congregations across BC knitted these prayer shawls that were given to Indian residential school survivors who shared their testimonies at the TRC BC national event. Photo: Marites N. Sison

Vancouver–Hundreds of B.C. Anglican, United and Presbyterian church members were unable to make it to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) national event being held here Sept. 18 to 21, but they made sure to let Indian residential school survivors know that they were in their thoughts and prayers.

Prayer shawls, knit by church members across the province, arrived here and were distributed to survivors, who shared their testimonies at the event, the sixth of seven gatherings the TRC is mandated to hold under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches, which operated the federally funded schools, are signatories to the agreement.

Bishop Barbara Andrews, of the Kamloops-based Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI), travelled with about 60 of those shawls, which were knit and prayed over by various congregations.

The shawls are “a symbol of reconciliation, of our care, compassion and prayerful support on their [survivors]’ journey” towards healing,” said Andrews in an interview.

“I had the privilege yesterday of giving one to a lady after she had shared her story for the very first time in the church listening area and she was so touched both to receive the shawl as well as the official apology of the Anglican church,” said Andrews. The shawls and the presence of church representatives are important, she added. “I just feel that our church has to be a part of the walk to reconciliation. It’s important to hear the stories, to be part of the witnessing of the history that we’re hearing… and to respond in our local areas in whatever way that we can.”

Archbishop John Privett, bishop of the diocese of Kootenay and metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon, said he was moved to see the involvement of many Anglican congregations in the knitting effort. “I know that they’re here in spirit as those prayer shawls are offered to survivors…as a sign of compassion and prayer.”

The shawls have been powerful symbols of reconciliation at past TRC events “particularly because of the importance of blankets and the ‘blanketing’ in West Coast traditional ceremony,'” according to organizers of the ecumenical effort.

Ministry involving prayer shawls began in 1997 and was started by Americans Vicky Galo and Janet Bristow, who saw shawls as “a perfect metaphor for our experience of a mothering God.” They noted that shawls are embraced by many cultures around the world and that even Jesus Christ wore a prayer shawl called a talit. Prayer shawl ministry is alive and well, not just in Canada but around the world, and has attracted people of many faiths. Prayer shawls have made their way to those in need of comfort, from cancer patients to battered women living in shelters.

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Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to <em>The Toronto Star</em> and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for <em>The New York Times</em>.

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