Identity & Communication Event held on 3-20-2004

"Tell 'em Who You Are!"




River Edge Church Gets Ledger Headlines


A big splash was what it was for First Congregational UCC in River Edge.  Here’s how the Newark Star Ledger covered one way the church reaches out through a “shawl ministry”:


Sending out good thoughts and blessings wrapped in a shawl

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Star-Ledger Staff

Call it old-fashioned country comfort.

A group of women at the First Congregational Church of River Edge are knitting shawls, hoping it will help their ministry reach out to those in the community who need solace, or just an act of kindness.

"There are 30 of us, and each has created at least one shawl to be given away to someone. So far, I've made five and am working on my sixth," said Robin Hillenius, 49, of Hackensack.

It was through the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Connecticut, and their former pastor, John Danner, and his wife, Linda, that they learned about the Shawl Ministry. A woman from the Saugatuck church knit the first shawl presented by the First Congregational Church, said Hillenius.

"The reasons to knit a shawl are as numerous as the people who knit and receive them," said Alice Rushforth, 64, of River Edge. "To comfort someone or to celebrate a special occasion. We felt it would be a great ministry for us and other members of our church to get involved in."

"It doesn't matter whether you're eight or 80 or whether you're an experienced knitter because we can teach you. In fact, there are several people who wanted to help but aren't interested in knitting or crocheting, so they're putting the finishing touches of fringe on the shawls," Rushforth added.

It was last November when the two Bergen County women heard about the Shawl Ministry started in 1998 by Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, graduates of the 1997 Women's Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn.

They attended a gathering called "Knitting the Circles Together," so it could be adapted for members of First Congregational and those in surrounding communities who wish to take part.

Whether they are called prayer shawls, comfort shawls, peace shawls, or mantles, a blessing is knitted into each one. The knitter begins each creation with prayers and blessings for the intended recipient. Once it is completed, a final prayer is offered before it is distributed.

Last Tuesday night, when our minister (Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith) blessed our completed shawls, he just led us in prayer," said Hillenius. "Up until now, we've used the Shawl Ministry's prayer."

Found at (, the Prayer of Blessing was written by Janet Bristow.

"May God's grace be upon this shawl. . .

warming, comforting, enfolding and embracing.

May this mantle be a safe haven. . .a sacred place of security and well-being. . .

sustaining and embracing in good times as well as difficult ones.

May the one who receives this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace,and wrapped in love."

Although each group can develop its own guidelines, the founders of the Shawl Ministry created a booklet for people to follow. In addition to prayers, it includes directions on how to knit and crochet, what size needles to use, the best types of yarn, yarn colors and their symbolism, according to Rushforth.

For example, yellow signifies wisdom; orange, thoughtfulness and purple, leadership.

Discussing what drew them to this particular ministry, the women talked about the importance of doing something to benefit others.

"You know, my knitting experience took place while I was in college," said Rushford. "Everybody knitted scarves while standing in the cafeteria line, but I hadn't done it for years until Robin talked to me about this ministry. It's like a big hug -- sharing, coming together and doing something for someone else."

"A friend of my grandmother taught me how to knit when I was a youngster." said Hillenius. "I never thought I'd be doing this type of thing now, but it's a great way to use one of the talents that God has given me to help others. It also gives me spiritual discipline." The Shawl Ministry meets at the First Congregational Church of River Edge every six weeks, in the afternoon and evening. Information on the dates and times can be obtained by calling the church at (201) 261-1712 or e-mailing

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