The Fellowship of the Knitting Salvationist

There’s a kind of unique relationship between strangers that I’ve only noticed in two walks of life.

One is as a Salvationist on those very rare occasions that I’m in a public place and wearing a Salvation Army t-shirt.

How many of us have been in a town centre and seen a salvationist in their uniform collecting and selling papers. It seems the general rule of thumb is that we say hello and let them know we are also fellow salvationists. The same thing happened years ago when I was in a supermarket near my home and in a SA t-shirt. I was approached by a fellow salvationist and asked which corps I came from right in the middle of the veg aisle. Once introductions are complete there’s an instant camaraderie.

I’m guessing it happens in other church denominations but perhaps not as much as in the Army. If a street preacher is speaking in town (as they do a lot in Wakefield) we generally don’t approach them as a fellow Christian. Identifying ourselves to fellow church members seems to be something more reserved to Army folk.

This unique instant fellowship is something I’ve only experienced amongst army folk… and knitters.

For those in the know, I’m using the term knitting to include both knitters and crocheters!

I knit in public quite a lot and it’s common to be approached by strangers who want to discuss knitting, their knitting, their mothers knitting, their grandmothers knitting. How granny didn’t use a pattern, how they loved hand knitting baby clothes and a whole host of knitting related conversations.

Many a knitting group has begun simply by one knitter having coffee and knitting in the same coffee shop at the same time each week. It’s like we become instant friends and fellow companions.

I don’t see the same fellowship with readers, I wouldn’t get my coffee and sit with someone reading and join them to read together, and I’ve never got my laptop out in a cafe next to another coffee shop computer worker and discussed our workloads.

Today, I experienced this uniqueness again.

I was sitting in Costas at the hospital and crocheting. I’d just had an appointment with a specialist and it’s all good news. As usual I took my knitting expecting a wait and was surprised at how quick everything was, so I decided to have a coffee and crochet before heading home.

10 minutes into my knitting I was joined by a stranger, there were plenty of empty tables but this is the uniqueness of the knitting camaraderie.

In silence she sat next to me, got out her knitting and began knitting away.

Peter Kay jokes about the conversation in taxi cabs… Are you busy?… What time are you on till?

Knitters have a similar question that needs to be asked, so I waited a short while until she had got her knitting and pattern sorted and was in the full swing of it…

What are you making?

Once the question has been asked the fellowship of the public knitter has been firmly established and we chat as though we’re old friends.

In minutes we were chatting about teaching, special needs education, the motorway, hospital parking, and her mum.

It’s been said before that your knitting group often knows more about you than your husband and within ten minutes I was listening to this fellow knitter talk about her reason for being at the hospital. A car had knocked her elderly mother down and she was in ICU. Ten days later her mum was still fighting and things were beginning to feel hopeful.

I remembered my own experience a month before covid and having both parents come into hospital, I remembered the calls to come in because dads time was near and the fight dad managed for such a long time. I remembered how tiring it was just to manage visiting and with these memories I was able to have a bit more understanding of what this ‘friend’ was going through.

On the way home I kept thinking about the place I was knitting in, the hospital coffee shop. Where better to meet people at their most vulnerable? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of giving our gifts to God and the thought that it’s not a gift that I leave in His hands but a collaboration between God and me.

I remember hearing about a knitting group run by cadets at the Army college. The group was held on the NICU ward of the hospital. I wasn’t told this by Army folk, but by nurses on 2 separate occasions. They told me about the babies who were so very unwell that they might not survive, but the cadets were teaching the parents to knit baby clothes. There was the hope in the knitting that it would be worn, but also the fellowship and friendship that was there when things didn’t seem hopeful.

While I plan big collaborations with God, He is working on the minute details I cannot see. Just where he needs me my Lord has placed me isn’t a grand call for the big plan, but a whisper to the one soul having coffee who just needed someone to sit and knit with.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

One thought on “The Fellowship of the Knitting Salvationist

  1. I so agree with you, Betty, about the fellowship of knitters. This last Sunday I was on the Belfast-Liverpool ferry, coming home after a funeral. There weren’t many people on the ferry, but I noticed a lady sat in a corner doing something that looked like macrame. So being on automatic knitter pilot I went over and asked what she was making. She was making angels with curtain rings and white thick wool. Lovely angels, lovely chat, then I went back ….. to my knitting 🧶


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