Escaping war, poverty and other strife in their homelands, refugees and immigrants arriving in Minnesota often seek good health care, education opportunities and other improved standards of living.

But they also yearn for friendships as they navigate a new language and culture.

That’s what the Minnesota Council of Churches’ Knitting Collective aims to provide. The unusual ministry involves about four members of a south Minneapolis church who meet there each week with refugees and immigrants. They all sit in a circle and knit together.

“The idea is to try to get to know these women and to just give them something fun to do,” said Judy Peterson, 70, one of the church members in the Knitting Collective at Aldrich Presbyterian Church. “It’s like a fellowship time for them. In a way, it’s helping their mental health … because they’re feeling good about what they’re doing.”

The Knitting Collective, now in its second year, started because the Council of Churches sought to offer refugees and immigrants an outlet where they could relax, have fun and share their experiences with others.

Peterson says the small group of women meets every Thursday afternoon at Aldrich church, where they drink tea and coffee together and knit what they call “prayer shawls.” Once they’re made, the shawls are given to the needy and others who might benefit from them.

Peterson says Somali refugees and Spanish-speaking immigrants have participated in the Knitting Collective, which offers Peterson and other women a chance to learn about different cultures as well.

“Personally, I have really enjoyed getting to know these women from other countries,” Peterson said. “These gals that are coming right now [to the collective], they’re trying to teach me Spanish words, too. It’s just a riot. It’s just fun.

“I have had such a sheltered life. I grew up here in Minnesota. I just can’t imagine some of the horrible situations that they’ve come from. … I think it’s kind of taken me out my own world.”