Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week of Healing Services

This has been the week of healing services, and I've been assistant minister at both of the ones I attended.

Our church does a healing service every month, usually, the last Sunday of the month. This month we moved it to be part of the service in commemoration of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During our church's healing service, which is part of a larger service, we invite people to come forward. They kneel at the altar, and the ministers lay their hands on the shoulders and/or heads of the kneelers. The ministers say something along the lines of "Receive this oil as a sign of forgiveness and healing in Jesus Christ. May you be strengthened and filled with God's grace, that you may know the healing power of the spirit." The ministers make the sign of the cross in oil in each person's forehead. Some people cry a bit. Some people continue to kneel and pray. The ministers keep moving from person to person.

Last night, at the service after the dinner for the homeless people at First Lutheran, we gathered for a healing service in the sanctuary. There were six pairs of chairs around the sanctuary. We read a Bible passage and the minister of First Lutheran delivered a homily on healing and the tradition of healing services. Six of us went to the chairs and waited.

People who felt so moved came forward. I asked each person, "What do you want to bring before God tonight?" My hope was that each person would then feel safe enough to talk about what brought them to a healing service.

After that sharing, I said a personalized prayer for that person and their concerns, and then I anointed that person's head with oil and said the prayer that we use in our suburban church.

We didn't have massive numbers of people come forward last night, but I wasn't disappointed. It's a new type of service, and I understand why people are uncomfortable.

I used to be deeply uncomfortable with the idea of healing services. It seemed too close to what those charismatic people do. In the past, I've been happiest with the gifts of the spirit that fit in with what my rational mind can understand.

As I watched people come forward last night, I thought, surely even the most rational person can understand the value of this process, even if they dismiss the possibility of God's healing power. We live in a time period where people have less and less time. It's hard for us to know what's going on in people's lives; we just don't have time to settle in for a heart-to-heart conversation. It's possible to go for days, if not months at a time, without ever feeling a non-sexual touch. Even our health care workers sheathe themselves with latex before they touch us.

I believe that God works in a host of ways that I can't begin to understand. I'm less inclined to dismiss centuries of tradition than I once was. For these reasons, I'm much more open to healing services these days, at least healing rites that are done within the auspices of a liturgical service.

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