Knitter stitches purls of wisdom

By Monica Sawyn | For The Compass | October 17, 2013

Van Vorous launches prayer shawl ministry at Door County parishes

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]SISTER BAY — Dixie Van Vorous is in stitches much of the time — the knit and purl kind that go into creating beautiful shawls for those in need of prayers.

Dixie VanVorous (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)
Dixie VanVorous (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

She doesn’t do it alone. She started a prayer shawl ministry when she lived in Illinois and started one in Sister Bay after she and her husband moved there in 2011. Van Vorous, who became a Catholic back in the 1970s, said this ministry has given her “a place in the church.”

“I’m a shy person and this is something I can do on the sidelines,” she said. “It allows me to do something for people without any kind of public thanks.”

Shy or not, Van Vorous’ whole face lights up when the words “prayer shawl” are mentioned, enthusiasm wrapped around each word she eagerly utters.

Prayer shawl ministry got its start in 1998 with Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo, two Christian women who had just graduated from the Women’s Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. It has since spread all across the United States, from one avid knitter or crocheter to another, with organized groups forming usually in churches.

The idea is to pray while working for whoever will eventually receive the shawl, and the shawls are always given away without cost. Some groups rely on donated yarn and materials. Van Vorous said the members of the Stella Maris group provide their own yarn.

Association with the prayer shawl ministry has crossed denominational lines for Van Vorous, who began crocheting when she was in the fourth grade. She first learned about a Lutheran group while visiting with a woman in a yarn store near where she lived in Illinois, and she attended a couple of the meetings. Their work inspired her to make a shawl for a young mother of two children who was diagnosed with cancer.

Later, although she didn’t know the Lutheran women well, she asked if they would provide a shawl for a paralyzed woman that Van Vorous had met in a rehab center after her own knee surgery. The woman’s joy at the gift inspired Van Vorous to begin a prayer shawl ministry in her Illinois parish in 2009.

Two years later, she and her husband moved to Sister Bay. Van Vorous continued to knit and distribute prayer shawls on her own, but said, “It took me almost a year to get the courage to organize an actual group at Stella Maris.”

If she’s creative with her needlework, she was also creative in finding people who wanted to join her.

“I can’t get up and talk in front of people,” she said. “So I decided to have a booth in the ministry fair.”

In one weekend, she visited all five Stella Maris parish sites where the fairs were being held. The various groups and organizations had their materials and sign-up sheets at tables after Mass, and Van Vorous set up right alongside them. Besides brochures that explained the ministry, she had two baskets to give away in a drawing, one with knitting supplies, another for crocheting.

“Everybody likes to win something, and I figured I’d get potential members that way,” she said, adding with a chuckle: “Can you tell my husband was in sales?”

Thirty to 35 people signed up for the drawing, supplying her with names and phone numbers. She made her calls, explained the prayer shawl ministry, recruited 15-20 members, and they’ve been meeting once a month for the past year.

Members come from all five Stella Maris sites — Sister Bay, Fish Creek, Egg Harbor, Baileys Harbor and Jacksonport — and also from the Baptist church in Sister Bay. Doctrinal differences don’t matter here. What they have in common is the love of handwork, belief in prayer, and the desire to help others. The shawls are blessed by Fr. David Ruby, an enthusiastic supporter of the group, or by Deacon David Kowalski, and are available at the Sister Bay site.

“God said to love one another as he has loved us, and in a small way we are trying to do just that,” Van Vorous said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Dixie Van Vorous

Parish: Stella Maris, Sister Bay site

Age: 67

Favorite saint: Blessed Mother

Words to live by: “Let go and let God.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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