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Conway knitters praying for virus nurses and patients

Group from St. Joseph Church in Conway creating prayer shawls, mask extensions

Published: April 30, 2020   
Aprille Hanson
Jean Leffler, leader of the Close Knit ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway, hands a knitted mask extension to fellow member and parishioner Karin Kirk April 18 in the Michael’s parking lot before buying yarn.

CONWAY — The Close Knit ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway, which has been going strong for 13 years, is mostly made up of retirees. Jean Leffler, who leads the group of about 12 active members, admits most are not particularly tech savvy, which would ordinarily be tough in this new virtual world of connecting given the threat of COVID-19.

Despite social distancing, they are making a difference in the best way they know how — knitting and prayer. Thanks to their efforts, prayer shawls have been distributed to those in need, including some COVID-19 patients, as well as 95 knitted mask extensions for nurses in Las Vegas, where a parishioner’s daughter lives.

“You watch people on the front lines … well, what can we do? OK, I can send money, which I have, but you can’t fix it all,” Leffler said. “But this was just a wonderful, easy way for us to get involved and do something. We are told in our teachings, most of us grew up in pre-Vatican II; you did these things because you were supposed to.”


Knitted relief

In Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, nurses have endured painful bleeding and cracked skin from wearing the elastic bands that usually loop around their ears, holding masks close to their face to protect them from COVID-19.

Diane Bausom, a parishioner at St. Joseph, reached out to the group when her daughter Susan, a nurse at Southern Hills shared a design she found on Facebook, hoping her mother could help her fellow co-workers. Susan, an ER nurse, has been sidelined for much of the outbreak after a long stretch of pneumonia; she recently returned to work, though not with COVID patients, and has been anxious to help get some relief to her friends on the front lines, her mother said. Because the initial design was crocheted, something out of Bausom’s wheelhouse, she reached out to Cassandra Bergschneider, a member of Close Knit, to convert the design to a simple knitted pattern.

“It just blew up from there,” Bausom said.

The 5-inch knitted extension has buttons on each end and goes across the back of the head. The two mask bands are looped over the buttons to hold the mask in place.


Covered in prayer

Throughout the years, they’ve made hats and baby blankets for premature babies in the NICU and for Life Choices pregnancy resource center in Conway and prayer shawls for cancer support groups, the elderly and those going through hard times. 

The ministry delivers two blankets to couples, with a note explaining they were prayed for while the blanket was made.

St. Joseph parishioner Terri Seiter was in bed when the pink and blue knitted blankets were dropped off. The 63-year-old cancer survivor had been suffering from COVID-19 but unknown to her, had been wrapped in prayer.

“It just meant the world, just knowing there were others praying and just the fact that they made those warmed my heart,” she said.

After Seiter had a fever, cough, lost her sense of smell and taste and felt “unbelievably tired,” she was tested for COVID-19 and diagnosed March 24. She was “pretty miserable” for about five days.

“I wasn’t scared; I think I felt too bad to really feel scared,” Seiter said. “I just laid in bed and rested and prayed. That’s about all I could do.”

She also texted close friend and fellow parishioner Angela Greenland, a clinical instructor at the University of Central Arkansas, who tested positive March 25. The 58-year-old had been battling a fever, loss of taste and some shortness of breath, but initially did not fit the criteria for being tested for the virus.

“I’m just a normal person. I always joke and say I go to St. Joe, UCA and Neighborhood Walmart,” Greenland said. “I was a little scared, but I knew I would recover from it.” She spent four days isolated in the hospital.

When she returned home, the love and care she received from her husband Don “was just unbelievable” and then came the knock on the door, delivering the prayer shawls.

“It was very meaningful and it really touched me deeply. I felt it was those prayers that sustained me. I still get choked up,” Greenland said.

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