Knitting for Penguins.
When events spatter bleach onto the red velvet of your life (as they will, my darling, oh they will, at some point), you might need people around you who are salvage experts.
If they coshed you and bashed you with texts, emails, calls, status updates, tweets, snapchats, instas, whatsapps, and you need to step right out for an hour or so and find out whether you can still hear an inner voice or find a part of yourself that’s still calm, you’d be wanting to sit among folk who are wise in the ways of peace.
If the cruelty and carelessness of the world pierce your heart and if you feel that you must act on those feelings, then you’ll need companions who care as much as you do, as well as practical folk who know what you can do, and where, and how. You’ll need associates who will help you transfigure the flints of righteous anger and the heavy stones of compassion into small but solid rocks, where those who are drowning in suffering can clamber up, stand still, sit down for a while and even, in time, bask and warm their backs.
Worthing has several groups who do this kind of work around the town. Some put more stress upon the action, some on reflection and analysis. Many are following ancient pathways into contemporary spaces and new moments. We probably need to meet a couple of them.
Storm is one very active group that Woby* has run across a few times. We’ve seen them on the high street, wrapping gifts for busy people doing Christmas shopping, and we’ve heard about their sustainable fashion show, using ethically-produced, organic, eco-aware and recycled clothing. They’re pretty well-known for their knitting for penguins. Woby* dropped in on the famous knitting group – a double opportunity to reflect upon the resurgence of crafts and on the relationship between spirituality and creativity.
The knitting group (women, younger and older) sat in a circle under a wall-board collage that offered the words, ‘peace’, ‘joy’, ‘heal everyone’, splashed boldly and in large looping script around smaller pieces to be mulled over: current news items, global and local; a card for The Esther Project; a purple cut-out which in one of the visit-photos looks like it says the word ‘art’, but in another photo clearly shows itself to be ‘heart’. Moments of quiet concentration or dreamy click-click slid into conversation and discussion. The group showed us their current project: a very ornate cloak for the penguin who will be Archbishop of Canterbury in Worthing Hospital’s royal wedding tableau. We wondered how the knitters manage to keep this up? They explained that some pieces are one-off, so there is always knitting going on, but that they can sustain lots of changes around town, as pieces are re-purposed. For sure, you can use and use again a knitted seagull. Ginny hinted that later this year, the penguins might be in rainbow attire and celebrating Pride. Woby* offered a convoluted story about childhood council estate Sunday school with the Evangelicals, Catholic catechism and coastal retreats, yearnings for a properly ‘radically inclusive church’. All of this, the group heard with patience and kind attentiveness, before Ginny explained (startling!) that many of the folk who take part in Storm activities are not church goers or even self-defined Christians, nor do they see themselves as being part of any kind of faith (never mind Christian) path or tradition. Group members nodded assent, and kept on knitting. Post-church is real, then. And Storm the group, which does community and outreach activities, is separable from Storm the church. Thankfully, 21st C work such as support to the homeless is an extremely long way from George Orwell’s account of what 20th C ministry looked like.
If you’re looking for a place to start inquiring into how your creativity might be linked to your spirituality, and how it could be brought into wider local community, I guess you could do worse than get knitting for penguins. The Storm knitters seem to be working in their craft to find ways to belong to Worthing, but also to themselves – and to more universal senses of belonging.
Woby* = Worthing By Accident