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Christian Healing :
Some Thoughts About St Cuthbert's Healing Services

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Some Thoughts About
St Cuthbert's Healing Services 

"You just take the oil and go round each person, making a sign of the Cross on their foreheads, with the words 'In the name o the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'." Something of a deep-end experience I hastily thought to myself. But so soon ? 

As a student attachment for some five weeks, I had already observed the healing service from the body of the congregation, allowing myself the assurance that this must be some specialist form of ministry. 

Nevertheless, I was forced to recall an undertaking which I had made to myself only weeks earlier. Art the start of my placement I had set myself the clear aim of throwing myself into situations in which I might sense a certain personal discomfort. 

Raised a highly rational Presbyterian of the one true U.P. tradition, I had always been vaguely of the opinion that "healing" most likely deserved the status of a n uninteresting irrelevance. Why go to a minister, when there were so many consultants in the pews ? Was a so-called "service of healing" not merely a throwback to an age of religious superstition ? 

One thing alone pointed me towards that little jar of oil in the vestry, the promise that I would immerse myself in the placement, leaving my own personal viewpoints (not "prejudices", of course) out on the steps each Sunday. 

By half past six, I had been primed and was ready for all aspects of the service - except for what happened. The genuinely communal spirit in which the blessing was conducted proved my first surprise. 

As Peter and I started our progression around those who came (or were brought) forward, there was absolutely no sense of "doing unto" the arc of women and men which had formed around the Communion Table. Instead, it appeared to me, that this was a humble yet dignified group of folk, choosing to come together within a wider community of praying Christians. 

Confounding my fears, the complete act of anointing blessing, praying and laying on of hands seemed quite natural; - a drawing together of people to ask God not for a miracle cure, but for healing in some much more holistic way. In this context, as least, it clearly involved no special power on the part of the minister. Rather, it hinted to me of a sense of God's grace in the midst of personal trouble or concern.  

With each blessing I found myself drawn into the relevance of what was going on around me, hearing the power of each person's "Amen" - a single word spoken with confidence and a note of affirmation. 

Only through direct involvement with the service could I have perceived the importance of the blessing for those who came for it. Only by being part of that whole ministering community of believers was I able to start glimpsing the related roles of prayer, touch and peace in the presence of God. 

After coffee, some 20 people gathered in the War Memorial Chapel for further ministry. The first thing that struck me in this small and hospitable place was the warmth and feeling of belonging that existed for these folk. From the very start there was a sense of welcome which I knew I wanted to explore. 

Peter asked me to join him and another member in laying our hands on three people, while we took it in turns to say short prayers. 

I sensed some confusion, bordering on guilt, at my unwillingness to pray overtly for physical healing. Was this some form of pastorally sensitive recognition on my part, merely a lack of faith, or else some paternalistic conviction that I knew what was best for the individuals who were placing themselves before me ? 

For two days I pondered my reaction, before brining the matter to my supervisors for their comments. Tom helpfully suggested that it can be pointless to worry about "kinds" of healing the act of bringing to God prayers for a person in need can be enough for us to concern ourselves with in each case. Peter agreed, adding that honesty and openness in prayer are vital, helping our approach top God to be one of frankness and sensitivity. 

Secondly, I found the more rational part of my psyche coming to the surface once more, when faced with people suffering from symptoms of purely physical problems, within the scope of modern medicine. What about doctors and physiotherapists ? The again, I wondered who am I to judge an individual's motives in seeking some kind of divine intervention at the heart if their need ? 

On this point, at least, I will remain respectfully agnostic for the moment pending future insight. 

What did these services teach me about ministry ? Above all, I came away with an emerging conviction that a ministry of healing is a peculiarly communal thing. Especially in the lively atmosphere of the chapel I realised I was surrounded by (and made part of) a community of prayer in which ordination and status play no part. Those present ministered to each other in the name of Christ, sharing with joy their mutual concern for their neighbours and their common faith in a God of the here and now. 

And in all of these there was only care, where I had foolishly anticipated zeal. 

I could find no answers to the questions posed by my experience. Why had it seemed so right ? Why did so many people thank me so powerfully for taking the time to be there ? Why did the troubled folk appear to leave "different" in some way ? In the course of my developing ministry these issues may be resolved.  

Rev Dr Robin Hill, 2000


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