I am currently between parishes, having returned to Toronto after 8 1/2 months serving in Nova Scotia. I was responsible for 6 churches grouped into three parishes. In my last sermons, I offered ways for each congregation to continue to be Church while they wait for their new priest coming this winter. While I don’t have the whole text, I made 7 suggestions on how to remain a healing community. They were inspired by our lectionary readings from the book of James in year B.
The New Testament contains stories of and instructions for healing carried out by all who call themselves Christians. When James speaks of “the elders” to whom members of the congregation are to go for healing, he is not speaking of a professional leader or healer (deacon, priest, pastoral visitor, parish nurse) but of those who are mature in the faith. That means most of us who are Christians.
Over the past 50 to 100 years the vocation of priesthood has become synonymous with the administrative role of running a legal entity and a community organization. With this, the vows we have taken have become, to a degree, professionalized, and this is no more evident than in the ministry of healing. Who do we call when someone gets a diagnosis, or is rushed to hospital? Who visits those in long-term care on a schedule that treats all as equally as possible? Who is called on to pray and counsel in times of distress? The priest.
The ministry of healing is a sensitive and difficult thing, not to be taken lightly. So, how do we continue to be a healing community when we do not have our priest (professional healer)?
- Be kind It’s so simple. We were taught as children, we teach our children and grandchildren, and, yet, we neglect this simple act every day. Kindness is a choice. It rarely comes naturally. It requires being aware of the needs of others, sometimes as simple as the words we say. We have all had a day where one kind word or action has completely transformed us. Always accept the invitation to be kind.
- Be reconcilers In the Canadian church as we come to terms with our history with the residential schools, we are learning the depths and power of reconciliation. First, to be reconcilers, we must acknowledge pain-the pain we have inflicted on others and the pain inflicted on us. We can not pretend the pain never existed, as it never goes away. Second, we must forgive. We often reserve talk about forgiveness to the big hurts. There are little annoyances and betrayals every day that we should also forgive. Forgive the coworker who spilled coffee on your keyboard. Forgive the woman at the coffee counter for taking a long time with her order. Forgive your kids for making a mess at dinner. Finally, we need to apologize fully. An apology is a statement that says, “I recognize my actions have hurt you and I will do my best not to hurt you in this way again.”
- Be bold Reach out, make a call. They may tell you they don’t want to talk about it. That’s ok. Some choose to endure distress alone or may have others on whom they lean for support. In Christian community, no one should ever feel they must suffer alone. Pray with people. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I screw up prayers all the time. God is patient. Even bring a prayer book along and read it. I have messed up any prayers but every time I have prayed with someone it has brought them comfort, even to recite the Lord’s Prayer together. I promise you it means so much.
- Be silent This seems like the opposite of no. 3, but it also requires the courage that you need to be bold. Wait on the Lord. Healing is God’s work, not yours. Keeping someone company does not mean talking to fill space. Sometimes a person needs permission and support to be silent. Don’t answer every question. Instead, accompany someone in the face of mystery.
- Be hopeful Healing happens when the afflicted person can see God’s own healing action in their own lives. It is not to us to offer an easy answer, simply to trust in hope. The first person I knew who was ever hospitalized for depression was an extremely faithful person. One day, a friend came to visit. The patient said, “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t pray. I can’t believe. I have no faith left.” The friend responded, “That’s alright. That is why we are here, to have enough faith for ourselves and you.” Our hope-not in a solution or cure, but in the sustaining comfort, strength and love of God-is far more than solutions.
- Be healed We are so generous when it comes to others who are sick, but how hard it is to ask for prayer and help when we are in distress. To ask for healing as well as offering it is critical. We are all vulnerable, and we can not bear witness to the healing power of God unless we have experienced it. We will not experience it fully until we ask.
- Embrace mortality Cure is but one form of healing. Death is also a form of healing. Recovering with or living with a disability is a form of healing. The gift of mortality offers us the chance to live each day fully, as if it were our last. In this interview, the Rev. Dan Graves, editor of Prayers for Healing from the Anglican Tradition says, “Hope comes when we, in all our brokenness and pain say, “whether I live, I live unto the Lord, whether I die, I die unto the Lord; whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.” I am the Lord’s if I am sick or well. What I acquire and achieve in this life is no more my story than cancer or a terminal illness. Jesus Christ is my story, and his love for me. This is healing.“
Participating in the healing power of God is a privilege of the Christian life. Being part of a Christian community is meant to root us in a context of healing that pervades every area of our lives. It is not a gift set aside with special hands or gifts, but an act that is ongoing in which we all participate by acknowledging that, whatever happens in our mortal life, it belongs to God.