Knit and Natter – update Jul12

Chris Crowder explains how Knit and Natter in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, has become much more than a group for people who enjoy knitting.

We are now coming to the end of our fourth year and it seems hard to imagine that at the beginning we were nervous of introducing a spiritual element into our meetings. We talked of asking people if they'd like to come into Church after the group had finished for a short devotional time, we didn’t know how to introduce topics of spirituality and so on but – from the first meeting – it was obvious the members would welcome prayers said within group for the people they loved and the spirituality has grown naturally and is now inherent in every meeting.

Knit and Natter is Church – God's people all gathered together in one place doing God's work: caring for others by producing warm clothes for the needy, whether they be the homeless person on the streets of Liverpool or an abandoned child in Swaziland or a patient in the leprosy hospital in Nepal, and caring for each other as we get to know one another better through conversation.

Our meetings are relaxed and friendly – there is no formality. Our liturgy follows a similar pattern every week: knitting (some!) conversation (lots), tea and cake, perhaps some more knitting and lots more conversation, and then prayers for those we know are in need (a list is passed around during group) and finally the Lord's Prayer.

Members (there is now an average of 35 attending every week) come from all denominations and backgrounds; most of our group are over 60, but occasionally young mums call in with their children and feel at home in the warm family atmosphere that is generated. Members feel wanted, useful and loved and those that are depressed, or lonely, or bereaved can share their problems in a loving, caring environment.

This year we have sent off many kilograms of jumpers hats and mitts across the world, we have made piles of baby clothes for local hospitals and knee blankets and shawls for hospices. A member of our group accompanied Anna Briggs of Liverpool to Norway with the shawls she had collected from all over England to give to those affected by the Utoya massacre in July 2011.

We have also knitted hats, mitts and jumpers for all 29 children in the Sandra Lee Centre in Swaziland and we hope many people will consider sponsorship of a child there.

In January, for the third year in succession, we had a very successful Knit and Natter service at which the speaker was the Rev Ian Hu from Somewhere Else (the 'bread church' in Liverpool). The retiring collection was given to Ian towards his work and also, during the service, a scarf was completed by the congregation which was given by Ian to one of his members – along with a hat and gloves.

Knit and Natter - baptism

In May, we had a stall at a Diamond Jubilee Street Party and decided to use this opportunity not just to promote Knit and Natter, but also to raise monies for postage by selling vintage knitted items, such as covered coat hangers, hot water bottle covers, tea cosies etc as well as toys and bric-a-brac. We also had a pile of Jubilee Edition New Testaments marked 'free of charge' to anyone who wanted one. An hour before the end of the Street Party everything was gone and we had raised nearly £200 towards postage!

Some time ago, one of our founder members mentioned that she had never been baptised: she is now 82. On 26th June we put that right: through Knit and Natter Sibby made her wish known. She found a way into the Church and in the presence of her family, church and Knit and Natter members – in a glorious celebration within the group – she was welcomed into the family of the Church by Deacon Judith Ireland.

We have now finished for the summer break (during which time the members will all be knitting furiously). We are sure the table containing their work will be groaning under the weight of work on the first day back in September. Our last day coincided with the arrival of an Olympic torch which had been carried through Chester by a young lady who used to attend our Sunday School – what a glorious way to finish a magnificent year!

Knit and Natter

Knit and natter - ladiesA fresh expression of church for knitting fans in Ellesmere Port has inspired several similar groups to pick up the needles and wool. One of the organisers Mrs Chris Crowder tells how the original vision has blossomed.

My 89-year-old friend Dorothy was terminally ill with cancer when she received a knee blanket from a church craft group in New Zealand just before she died. I thought of that precious blanket a few weeks later when I visited Somewhere Else, the 'bread church' on Bold Street, Liverpool.

I sat next to Anna Briggs from the Iona Community who runs two secular knitting groups in the city. She had a Knit and Natter bag on her knee; we got talking about what she did and that sowed the seed. Our Minister then met her too and we went on to have a get-together for interested parties at church. I searched the internet for copyright-free patterns and a couple of months later, in September 2008, we opened our doors for the first time to Knit and Natter in the reception area next to the Church.

Knit and natter - hatsIt wasn't long before we had so many members we had to move to the hall and now our members meet every Tuesday afternoon in term time from 1.30pm–3pm. Over the past two years, have posted off more than a quarter of a tonne of knitted jumpers, hats, scarves and blankets to people in need at home and abroad. These have included the homeless, lonely, ill and bereaved of Chester and Ellesmere Port. We have also sent goods to South Africa, Haiti, Kosovo, Nepal, Kenya, Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, as well as having the pleasure of being able to knit for children by name at an orphanage in Swaziland.

At the start of the meeting we put out a cross in the centre of the room on a table covered with Dorothy’s blanket and members put their completed knitting on and around this table. We also place a collection plate on the table as we take donations rather than subscriptions. Our postage costs are covered by the monies donated: just like the feeding of the 5000, there is always enough.

Our meetings end with short devotions which, initially, we were rather nervous about, but how wrong we were! We were so wary of the missional side of things but it is now at the heart of what we do. Although the majority of our members are not regular churchgoers, they readily ask for prayer and acknowledge answers to those prayers. On the Knit and Natter membership card, it has this from Matthew 25 v37-40: 'When Lord did we ever see you naked and clothe you? I tell you that when you did this for one of the least important of my family you did it for me.'

Knit and natter - babyKnit and Natter isn't just a knitting club making clothes for charity – it is a fresh expression of church which works on many different levels, giving people a purpose in life and sending God's love around the world. There is no doubt at all that many of our members see Knit and Natter as their church, they recognise the fact that we are meeting together in community and God is there.

A team of four of us usually co-ordinate it and we all play to our strengths: the other three are wonderful cooks and make delicious cakes whereas my efforts are rather hit and miss! They are also very adept at setting up the hall and clearing away afterwards. I lead the devotional time and try and write a prayer that's meaningful and pertinent to our particular theme of the day. In that respect, the members tend to think I'm the leader but there is absolutely no way I could run the group without the invaluable support of the others.

We usually knit at the beginning, have cake and tea at about 2.15pm and then have notices and devotions for the final quarter of an hour. I start passing round the prayer list about mid-way so it is complete by devotions time. We finish every week with the Lord's Prayer. We sit in a circle so that all are included and there are no separate cliques; it's as part of this community that concerns and questions are raised.

Sometimes we will have 45 come along, at other times we have 30.  If one of our team can't get to a person who needs a sympathetic ear or to a new member who needs to be made welcome, we know that one of the established members will take on that role. Just because most of our members are older in age doesn't mean that they are immune from problems: one lady suffered suicidal thoughts, but came to see Knit and Natter as a reason to go on; another had lost her husband when she first came to us and was very low in spirits – however, she is now talking about approaching the local hospital to ask if she can start a Knit and Natter Group there to help people with mental health problems.

Other members do come to church but haven't been coming for very long and Knit and Natter provides contact with the regular church members and helps them to get to know us. A group come from the other Methodist Church in the town and we have got to know them really well – this has strengthened the bonds between us. We also have some members from other denominations and have also invited several speakers from different church backgrounds.

Knit and natter - boyKnit and Natter has inspired people to start similar groups in Northolt, Bromborough, Lymm, Kettering, Little Neston, Heswall and Chester. The latter is an Anglican group that is going to approach the Methodists to see if it can be run jointly – again strengthening bonds between churches. We have even been Club of the Month in Simply Knitting magazine!

I'd encourage people to look at their own communities, listen to them and decide if there is an opening for a group. If so they should know that it will grow and mean more work than they initially anticipated but it's also gratifying and wonderful. I feel it's where God wants me to be because it's practical Christianity.

We let members knit what they want. I even have a couple of ladies who can only natter rather than knit, but they have proved a real asset in their contribution to the group.

Looking forward, we have been approached by the local Academy to see if they can bring a class of 14-yr-olds to join us to learn to knit and crochet and the local Women's Refuge is also very interested – it's all very exciting!

But for me the most important thing is not how much we produce in terms of output but it is the love that exists between our group both for one another and for the world at large.

Knit and natter - knitting