A healing church
The Rectory, February 1999
Lent begins this month - so its a good time to reflect on the dimension that healing plays within our Christian life and faith. For most of us the healing aspect of the gospel is something we call to mind, if we do so at all, at St Lukes Tide when the church by tradition prays for doctors and nurses and all involved in the medical profession, recalling that Luke is referred to in the New Testament as a physician. The ASB themes for the year used to provide the church with another opportunity prior to Lent when the Sunday theme was Christ the Healer. The new lectionary readings however are based on books of the bible rather than on Christian themes.
Of course "healing" is not a separate part of the gospel nor of the ministry of Jesus. The whole gospel is about healing - whether that means the forgiveness of sins, the bringing of justice, the liberation of those held captive or the restoration of peoples to wholeness of mind and body. Jesus in his first sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth took this text from Isaiah as definitive of his ministry:
The Jubilee 2000 Campaign, the confession of sins and the laying on of hands are equally part of the healing ministry of the gospel of Jesus. Indeed the Church itself is called into being to be a healing community where people can find acceptance, forgiveness and new life and hope in the love of God. Every Eucharist is a healing moment in which we are united with Christ and each other so enabling us to "go in peace to love and serve the Lord". But sometimes we need more specific and perhaps more personal reassurance of the healing presence of Christ. Many are not aware of the ministry of the laying on of hands and of the anointing with oil. These are important but often neglected provisions made by the church so that we might be sustained in faith even at the most difficult and anxious times of our lives. So for the past eighteen months the PCC has been thinking carefully about how at St Peters we can be more aware of the healing work of Christ and make better provision for the laying of hands. The Revd. John Wardle, Vicar Choral at Southwell Minster and the Bishops Advisor for the Healing Ministry, came and spoke to the PCC. Some members of the PCC attended the Healing Service which is now part of the regular monthly pattern of services at the Minster.
The quiet, reflective and prayerful nature of these Minster services reassured those of the PCC who were rightly concerned about the highly charged and emotional healing events in some churches and groups which seem so often to be staged, manipulative and sensational. This is of course very far from what we or Southwell Minster have in mind! We must not let the healing aspect of the gospel be lost to us because it is sensationalised by others. Our aim is not to produce miracle cures twice nightly but to help people to pray and to know Christ in their own circumstances. The laying on of hands is an important physical sign of being open to Christ and letting his love, grace and healing presence be at work in us. We are, as it were, consenting to Christ by this sign and acknowledgement of our need of him. This, it seems to me, is what we mean by healing. We are not looking simply for a cure by an alternative means but for a healing which in some cases may involve being reconciled to an illness to which there will be no cure.
The PCC have agreed that the evening communion service on the first Sunday of the month could provide an opportunity to pray for healing, our own or on behalf of others, and for those who wish to receive the laying on of hands. Those of you who have been to the evening Eucharist will know that it is a quiet and peaceful service with its own discreet healing atmosphere. The service will continue to be as before but after the address those who wish to will be invited to come and stand around the platform, as we do to take communion, and receive the laying on of hands (similar to the simple, personal blessing we give to those who are not communicants). We hope this will help us to be a healing church in the broadest sense, as our own experience of Christs healing presence encourages us to be engaged, by prayer and action, in his healing of our broken and unjust world.
On Sunday 14th February the sermon will be about the healing ministry and there will be an opportunity afterwards over coffee in the Centre to discuss the sermon and ask questions about these proposals. The first evening Eucharist in Lent on Sunday 7th March will be the first time we introduce this new dimension to our worship and life at St Peters.