It is the season of mellow fruitfulness, the beginning of the academic session, the celebration of the Harvest Festival, and incidentally, the Jewish New Year, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. In many ways, it is at this season that things begin to happen rather than in midwinter, as we plan our activities for the future: up to Christmas, through winter and then through the spring and into the summer breaks of 2012.
For us the new beginning comes with the installation of the digital organ, as we start to develop new uses of music in worship and hopefully in other areas of ministry.
We have also begun to develop a ministry of healing with the laying-on of hands for prayer and anointing with oil during Tuesday evening Eucharist. Perhaps I may say something about this, for the ministry of healing has always been part of the ministry of the church, in accordance with Jesus’ commands: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” (Matt 10: 8). Gifts of healings were part of the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the early church (1 Cor 12:9) and James instructed those who were sick to seek the elders of the church who would pray for them, that they should recover. (James 5: 14 – 15) The point is that this is a command to the church, which we dare not fail to honour. It is not as if we are practising any kind of magic, for it is a work of prayer to God, that He may heal the person in our petitions. It is about prayer and devotion, not incantation or manipulation, and of course not all prayers are answered as we expect. I know only too well that even a mortal illness can end well if the person involved dies in faith, reconciled with Jesus Christ and at home again in the heart of the church.
The practice will be that after the administration of the Eucharist at the Lady Chapel altar, an invitation will be made to any who wishes it to kneel at one of the High Altar rails. If there is more than one, they should kneel on either side of the opening, and if more than two, then they should wait until a space has been vacated. This is to permit a reasonable degree of privacy as the need and point of prayer is expressed, and an extempore prayer is offered. Hands are laid on the head and the forehead is anointed with oil. It will take some 2-3 minutes per person.
The aim is to allow a prayer for healing to be requested however this is a pretty wide definition: a personal healing, the power to forgive another, prayer for another, or for an emotional need. It can involve a request for strength to deal with a particular need or to face a new kind of challenge. In this sense, the scope of our prayers is limited more by our faith and imagination than by the willingness of the Lord to hear our petitions.
None of this is of course to deny the place of personal prayer and devotion. Rather it is to ask for the ministry of the church to support us in our time of need or stress.
Some may ask how the Lord can be concerned with our individual needs and whether they are too trivial for His attention. I think that the point is that if a matter is causing us pain or grief, then it matters to us sufficiently for us to ask for relief. If this is the case then we can indeed bring it before the Lord. A second point is that none of this in any way obstructs our prayers of intercession during our worship, or our freedom to request prayer from each other in time of need or distress. I know that I was much supported as my sister was ill, even to the end.
So may I commend this ministry to you, and indeed that God may release this ministry among others in our congregation. Finally, there is nothing here that supplants the normal work of our medical services, and often a medical need will include prayers for the doctors, nurses and all other practitioners. Has anyone here not prayed for their dentist before or during an appointment??