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Unique ministry knits accessories; forms friendships

Kristen Bates hurdles

Once perceived as a grandmother’s pastime, knitting has exploded in popularity among younger generations. Now knitting has become the new chic way to be crafty and creative. Some attribute the popularity surge to numerous knit-loving celebrities, but Joy Oakes, a senior at Messiah College, believes that knitting’s attractiveness comes from its conduciveness to multitasking.

“Knitting is something that can be done while doing something else,” Oakes stated. For Oakes, that something else is fellowship. Specially, fellowship made possible through Tabitha’s, a unique student-ministry that uses knitting to serve the community.

The beginning of something good
Founded in 2005 (the year before Oakes’ freshman year) by Danielle Forney, an alumnus tragically killed in a car accident, Tabitha’s started with a few people meeting to knit while watching a movie. Named after a New Testament character known for clothing the poor, the group donated all final knitted products to the homeless through the college’s Agape Center for Service and Learning.

Assuming leadership in 2006, Oakes’ aimed to help Tabitha’s be engaged in the community. Primarily, the group carries out this vision by visiting Messiah Village, a local retirement community.

Fridays at the village
One Friday evening a month, Tabitha’s members load up in vans with pizza and knitting supplies to meet up with several Messiah Village residents.

These residents are members of Messiah Village’s Pathway Institute, which provides learning opportunities in an environment that encourages discussion and sharing. Initially, the Pathways Institute contacted Messiah College’s Agape Center because it wanted its members to connect with students, which is how Tabitha’s become involved. And to this day, the two groups still share a wonderful relationship.

Knitting together friendships
“When we first started it, we looked at it as a two-fold purpose,” Oakes shared, referring to their visits to Messiah Village. “Not only would we make hats and things for the homeless, but we thought that we could brighten their day.”
Knitting To add to the fun Tabitha’s always brings pizza to share with the residents. However the real fun doesn’t start until the knitting begins!

Desiring to be close to the experienced knitters and women of faith, students gather around the residents who spread out around the room. Eager to learn new patterns and techniques, every student is also interested to hear lessons of life and faith.

The women share accounts of their lives; some residents even share stories about their experience as Messiah College students.  The women also encourage the students to convey their journeys, and share where they see their lives taking them. Oakes admits that this relationship grew to be as much as a blessing for the Messiah College students as it is for the Messiah Village residents.

“To interact with someone who has wisdom far beyond our years, and see how active they all still remain in the community…has been an incredible experience,” Oakes claimed.

“I have been challenged by Tabitha’s commitment to serving others through making caps and scarves and giving them to the needy, but also through going to the Bethesda Women’s shelter to teach ladies how to knit…These students gave their Saturday to help others; that’s pretty impressive.” shared Ruth Zercher, a member of the Pathways Institute.

Being intentional in their community
While Tabitha’s and Pathway’s Institute members continue to bless each other with every encounter, they desire to engage in the community even more.  Recently, in addition to visiting Messiah Village, the groups plan monthly service trips, such as visits to the Bethesda Women’s Shelter of Harrisburg.

“Getting more involved in the community really gave us a purpose and made [the group] personally even more rewarding,” Oakes explained.

As the ministry gained more purpose, more students joined. Currently, Tabitha’s contains over 25 members. Sometimes they even have a hard time finding enough materials, which is “an incredible problem to have,” according to Oakes.

As Tabitha’s grows, the members look to use their talents, along with the talents and guidance of the Messiah Village residents, to creatively serve the community for God.

Story by Gina Menario `11. Photos by Nicholas Martino `12.

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