Being a healing community-7 ways to heal without your healer

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)?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Skimming and reading and transforming

As I’m settling into this new way of life, I feel myself transforming every day. I have to say the biggest change is having a team here, in the same building, who call me for lunch and are just a staircase away from me saying, “I was just thinking…” It also means being a lot more co-ordinated. I am absorbing Outlook, trying not to turn into my task list, but working hard to recognize that my schedule and plans are dependent on others in a much more urgent way than before. And as far as technology goes, it is fun to be in a place that a) has a co-ordinated calendar and b) does not get intimidated when you pull out your iPhone to check your schedule.

Sunday was my first Sunday and I finally felt like I was here. My first week I met all of two people under 20. The kids are great and seem to love church school, which is good place to start!

The big thing I am trying to do, though, is get a grasp on some reading. Lots of amazing stuff has come out on youth ministry in the past 10 years, much of which I have skimmed and kept an eye on, none of which I have actually sat down and read. With the aid of a $400+ book token from my beloved former parish and some suggestions from some colleagues, I am building my library with Andrew Root, Kendra Creasy Dean, Mark DeVries, Mark Yaconelli and Dorothy Bass along with others.

I am loving loving LOVING the renewed emphasis on relationship for relationship’s sake, not just to get kids students(they are all called students now. When did that happen?) into a sense of responsibility for the church. I just read a beautiful piece in The Godbearing Life about seeing youth ministry as a mission field–some great stuff for a celebration of new ministry.

One of my the exciting discoveries on which I am embarking is to encounter myself in youth ministry as an introvert. The last time I was in focussed youth ministry, I was much more extroverted, different energy, different ideas, and I was in a very different theological space. And, I learned and grew so very much. I feel a new and different passion for ministry than what I have been experiencing the past 8 years. I feel like God is unveiling me to this place, bit by bit and, in the process, unveiling me to myself.

My contribution to Vision 2019

Vision 2019 is a 10 year vision for the Anglican Church of Canada. Contributions are invited from Anglicans across the country. This is mine, filmed in my backyard in Antigonish.

Comments welcome.

Brrrrrrrrrrrr……..

Hi everyone,

Sorry, it has been a while. We are now, finally, in a deep freeze here in Antigonish. I know we all love warmth and sunshine, but I need winter. I need winter to appreciate the summer. And when I don’t get a proper winter north of 42, I wonder how anyone can doubt climate change.

Part of the reason I haven’t been adding much here is because there has been little that I could or would add. Obviously, a lot of my work is confidential and most of what I can share is on my church’s blog (abch.blogspot.com). You can find my sermons and other happenings there. Other than that, the big challenge has been settling into a routine with dog, partner, family, parish and new town.

And what routine? Well, it is starting to form. I have joined the St. FX chorale and we had our concert on December 5. I am really enjoying being part of an accomplished choir again. I love the challenge of reading music by ear. Our next concert is in April with some beautiful music from the black gospel and celtic traditions with the theme of peace. The best part of chorale singing is knowing that no matter how much you screw up or your voice just stops at the final high G of the final movement of John Rutter’s Gloria (yep, it happened, kinda like getting within 2 ft. of the top of a climb, kinda anti-climactic), you are still part of making a beautiful sound.

I am also blessed to be in a town with an active L’Arche community (thanks Corrinne!). If you have never been to a L’Arche community, I would highly recommend visiting one or at least reading the writings of Jean Vanier about community (speaking of, I found that book you gave me for my ordination the other day, Corrinne. I will look at it next. Promise.) I had a great meatloaf dinner with my friends at Covenant House and got my pants beat off at Skip-Bo by Margie!

The ordination was glorious and I love priestly ministry. The hard stuff is really hard and the good stuff is really great. Being able to offer the eucharist to people from so many walks of life makes any frustrations from the week all better.

That’s enough for now. I think of you all often. Next time you are on your way to Cape Breton stop in for a pee break. D+