Sacred Stitches

By Mark Brummitt, Phd.

“So great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

There’s a lot more to knitting than meets the eye, you know. 

Picture this: June 1990. Manchester, England, England. 

I’d be 23, I guess. Wait. 23, I know. I’ve just finished my first year in seminary in London and I’ve been sent on a summer placement. I’m pastor to a small church in Openshaw, Manchester, until October. Alone. 

Alone. And that genuinely scares me. I am okay about running Sunday’s services. But the rest of the week…. The accounts! I’ve no sense of what I should do. How on earth does one run a community let alone a community center? 

And I’ve a crush. A pretty significant one. But the object of my crush has been sent south. Four, nearly five months, with only a phone. Lonely, lovelorn; alone.  

And the church is small. In fact, it is tiny. Well, on a Sunday, that is. In the week we’ll get 40 or more to our Tuesday women’s group and Thursday pensioners’ club. And goodness’ knows how many mothers and toddlers come to Friday’s tea, toast, and toddlers mornings. (Yes. Tea—it’s England, remember—toast and chat while the toddlers toddle and/or crawl.) But on Sunday, 15 including me would be a good week. Still, we had a brass band and a choir and we made a joyful noise. 

And I’d cycle back and forth and be permanently damp—I swear it rained every day—and in the evenings I’d watch tv. Thatcher (*shudder*). Lots about the Gulf War. 

I don’t now remember what prompted me. Maybe it was simply seeing the small knitting shop around the corner from my redbrick church. But I started knitting in earnest. I bought the pattern for an Aran cardigan. Needles. Two balls of off-white yarn. It was a working-class neighborhood—albeit for many folks, more class than work. The lady in the yarn store would reserve enough wool for a project and let you buy a ball as and when you had the money. 

Somehow, I seemed to know what I was doing. When it came to knitting, that is. Double moss stitch. That was easy enough. Cable. I’d watched my aunts and mother—all lifelong knitters. I knew what to do. 

So, I’d settle in my digs and watch more tv than I’d ever bothered with before. And I knitted. A back. A front. A sleeve. And from what I remember, it was good. I was meticulous so I guess that’s not surprising. But I didn’t finish it. A back. A front. A sleeve. Then I returned to London. Seminary. Love. 

A few years later I gave what I had to my stepmother. But I since I hadn’t bought up all the yarn, I don’t think she ever managed to finish it either. 

I do wish I still had that pattern, though. 

And I wish I could remember the name of the lady in the knit shop. I’ve never been good with names; unfortunately, I am not much good with faces either. Common in ADHD I’ve since learned. 

But I have also learned that knitting gives my busy mind focus. Right now, in Zoom meetings, you can be very sure I’ve some out-of-sight project on the go. Something in garter or stockinette stitch so I can look up at the camera rather than down at my work. (Yes. I’ll emerge from this pandemic with a whole new rack of woolens. Unless, that is—as I often do—I end up dissatisfied with most of it or decide to give the bulk away). 

So, I don’t now remember the name of the knit shop lady. But in those days before YouTube I’d sometimes visit her for advice (increases and decreases were not something I’d absorbed from the matriarchs). She was curious about this Londoner who was running the local mission. But she was always friendly, always helpful. More than kind. 

And when her husband died unexpectedly that August, I’d go sit with her now and then. Sit. Knit. Say little. 

She may even have started coming to our midweek clubs. I have a vague recollection that she did. But I can’t be sure. 

I dare say she’s long since entered those Purly Gates. I drove through Openshaw a few years back. Her shop is gone. But the little church is still there. It’s now called a “community church;” it has a website and all. 

Were I to go back there and run that little congregation again, you know what? I be delighted. And I’d also start a knitting group. Wednesdays probably. And we’d sit. And knit. And there’d be a few of us so we’d chat. But we needn’t. 

We’d maybe make blankets for the sick or the homeless. But we needn’t. We could just make hats, scarves, socks, sweaters for friends, our families, ourselves. 

And if we talked, we’d talk about all the things that occupy us. And maybe about knitters we knew—mothers, aunts, fathers, uncles, whomever. And they’d be there anyway, present in the stitches they once taught us. 

And whenever I’m knitting thereafter, all those who had came to the knitting group would then become part of a great cloud of witnesses (“knit-nesses”? No. That really doesn’t work) as has that lady from the shop, forever in my mind curious, friendly, kind; in grief. 

There’s a lot more to knitting than meets the eye, you know. 

Bio:

Mark Brummitt is the Associate Professor of Old Testament Interpretation. He gained a BA in Theology (First Class Honors) at King’s College London, received the English Fellowship to complete the Master of Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, studied theater and performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts/King’s College London, and completed a PhD in Biblical Studies with Yvonne Sherwood at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Dr Brummitt writes regularly for the Expository Times and the Encyclopedia of Biblical Reception; he is publishing Jeremiah: Reconstructing the Prophet (2013) with Oxford University Press and a commentary on Jeremiah for the Fortress Commentary of the Old Testament (2014). Other areas of interest include Bible and culture; reading theory (structuralism; poststructuralism; gender theory; critical theory); and literary reception of the Bible.

Pattern rows 7-14 of #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible.

Published by Julie Cicora

I'm an Episcopal Priest that loves using knitting as a spiritual discipline.

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