The Healing Ministry
The search for healing and wholeness is one of the most profound characteristics of human existence. The Christian understanding of healing is not the same as a cure: it does not try to patch up, repair, recreate or revert something or someone to a former state. In the light of Christian faith, reconciliation and healing involve God's grace bringing about change, development and new ways of being, whether within the individual person or the wider society. These processes and transformations are inextricably linked with the gospel message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and our growth into holiness and wholeness in his image, in the context of eternity. (The Reverend Dr Beatrice Brandon DD,
the Archbishops' Adviser for the Healing Ministry)
The most common forms of the healing ministry are:
Public and private prayers of intercession
The laying on of hands and anointing
Reconciliation and absolution
Friendship, forgiveness, listening acceptance and affirmation
The Church's ministry of healing is:
Because it beckons us towards the future and a glimpse of the Kingdom, the home of creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness.
Because it calls us to reconsider our relationships with God, each other and the world and to seek forgiveness and a new start in our lives.
Because Jesus Christ is with us until the end of time: when we pray for his help, he comforts, strengthens and heals us, responding to our deepest needs.
There are many definitions of 'healing'. The following definition from the report A Time to Heal encompasses them all, simply and with clarity:
Healing: progress towards health and wholeness. The process through which the individual develops a physical, mental, spiritual, economic, political and social state of well-being, in harmony with God, with others and with the environment. (A Time to Heal, The Archbishops Council, London, Church House Publishing.)
A process to help the local church meet needs for healing within the local community
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
The healing ministry in the context of the local community
The way in which we minister to people in need of healing is one of the most important ways in which we spread the message of the Gospel. The healing ministry is carried out within our society which has continually changing values and attitudes to health and healing. The Church of England's response is to seek to ensure that the ways in which it is carried out are theologically sound, responsible, loving and leading people to a closer relationship with God. The healing ministry is Jesus' ministry entrusted to us, always to be exercised with reverence, love and compassion.
The wider implications...
God's gifts of healing are occasionally experienced instantly or rapidly, but in most cases healing is a gradual process, taking time to bring deep restoration to health at more than one level. This ministry should not exist in isolation either; it relates in various ways to other areas of Church activity including:
- pastoral care;
- spiritual development;
- the boundaries and overlap with the medical and caring professions, social services etc;
- ecumenical co-operation, particularly at local level and through the chaplaincies;
- community issues, justice and equality issues and ethical matters, international issues;
The whole mission of the Church could be described as healing in its broadest and deepest sense.
How can the local church develop the healing ministry in this parish to meet local needs for healing?
In order to become a healing presence within the local community, we need to:
- Pray! Ask our Lord for the guidance and the healing presence of the Holy Spirit
- Get an overview of the parish—and its context. What is the parish profile? Gather reliable statistics to anchor discussion and exploration in reality when people become wrapped up in generalizations...
- Carry out an audit—of how the parish currently expresses the healing ministry. Take a broad view and you will see that every parish is already engaged in this ministry in some ways, including Holy Communion, intercessory prayer, ministry to the sick and to those who are dying, visits to people in hospital and care for the bereaved, for example.
- Look within: use discernment to identify, honestly appraise and address issues which need healing, including obstacles, resistances and doubts which work against healing and reconciliation, such as conflict, strained relationships, lack of co-operation, prejudice and unwillingness to listen. Look for hidden needs as well as the most common and obvious ones—much suffering is hidden away such as broken relationships and discrimination—and disabilities which are discreet—such as hearing impairment, poor sight, mental illness such as depression, and unresolved issues like buried resentment, fear, grief and loneliness
- Make this ministry available in appropriate ways to everyone within the congregation, not just those who are very sick or distressed or housebound. Preach, teach and minister effectively about healing; encourage and develop healing ministry teams and intercessory prayer networks. Explore the various expressions of the healing ministry to find out which brings the most comfort and healing with regard to particular types of need for healing. Develop confidence and experience in ministering to others in appropriate ways and according to good practice. Gather round those who feel drawn to serve through this ministry and explore how the gifts they have been given can be put to best use.
- Make this ministry truly collaborative—within the congregation there may already be people with relevant gifts, training and experience. If it is to be truly collaborative, lay people should be involved as well as clergy. Healing ministry teams should include suitable men and women, people with a range of ages and backgrounds. The report A Time to Heal gives guidance on criteria for selection for team membership and how to express this ministry safely and soundly. Ensure that people involved are trained and willing to be accountable.
- Follow the House of Bishops' guidelines for good practice in the healing ministry.
- Ask: 'What kind of relationship does the local church have with the local community?' The parish church is not simply there for the benefit of the local congregation—it is there for the whole parish. The ministry of healing, as an expression of the Gospel is not just for Sundays, it is for all time: as an integral part of the Church's mission and ministry.
- Look outwards and discern the issues calling for healing within the parish. Consider social, economic and cultural factors, environment, local history as well as hopes for the future. This ministry includes restoring good relationships within the community and within the Church.
- Look beyond the needs of the individual to the needs of families and groups within the local community, including minority ethnic groups, single parents, the housebound, young people with problems at home or school, families coping with dying relatives or caring fot those who are chronically sick, and the elderly, particularly those with no close family nearby. Identify groups within the community with particular types of healing needs. For example, the bereaved, people coping with broken marriages, family breakup, individuals with chronic illness, pain and disability, carers coping with burn-out, people trying to cope with addictions, and those suffering from abuse at some stage in their lives.
- Relate the healing ministry to life-stages. This ministry can help people come to terms with the different stages in their lives and the ways in which their need for healing may change.
- Look beyond: how does this ministry relate to the whole of the local church's mission and ministry? For example, how does it affect priorities, worship and liturgy, pastoral care, collaborative ministry, allocation of resources, ordering of buildings? How should these areas be developed to meet local needs for healing? In what ways is this parish visionary, prophetic and dynamic through its expression of the healing ministry?
- Match the expression of the healing ministry to the needs of the local community. Build upon your growing experience of the healing ministry and develop ways in which it can be expressed to meet them. Some parishes are unable to provide a wide range of services so collaborate with neighbouring parishes and deaneries to offer a variety. Communicate effectively about this ministry and be prepared to provide information for people with impaired sight and hearing, learning difficulties and mental health problems.
- Build networks for support and referral to help those involved in the healing ministry; provide care for carers, prayer support for everyone involved, be willing to seek advice and to refer individuals with special needs. Know and acknowledge your limitations.
- Think ecumenically and collaboratively: explore opportunities to develop this ministry with other Christian denominations within Churches Together in England and with healthcare organizations within the local community.
- Encourage links between the local church and local healthcare provision. Develop good relationships with local doctors and social services and with local hospital, hospice and prison chaplaincies.
- Encourage wider awareness of environmental issues which affect health in the local community, such as plans for building and community resourcing, and environmental safety.
- Take a global view: support healing and health related projects in other parts of the world. Ask: 'How does the parish's support of mission and ministry overseas relate to this ministry?'
- Pray throughout this process. Reflect, review and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the renewal and development of the healing ministry. Encourage and sustain good practice. Help people to articulate their needs—and hear what they are saying!
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, 'Which commandment is the first of all?' 29 Jesus answered, 'The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.' (Mark 12:28-31)