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The Gift of Healing Re-examining the clergy vows of laying hands on the sick

By the Rev. David Maginley, Pastor, Peace, Sackville, NS

Preach the good news, baptize, care for the poor, lay your hands on the sick . . . these are the vows clergy take when ordained into most Christian traditions. As a Lutheran pastor, I also took those vows but never realized what the last one would entail if I took it seriously. Through Therapeutic Touch, this aspect of ministry is now a regular part of our congregation's worship. The practice of laying-on-of-hands is not unique to Chris-tianity. Stories of God's power to heal can be found in all religious traditions, as gifted people of faith have allowed their lives to be conduits of God's Love. Within Christianity, healing too often has been associated only with charismatic TV evangelists or relegated to ancient stories of the early church. That perspective is changing as interest in spirituality rises in our society. More are open to the understanding so common to our ancestors: that we are not just physical entities, but beings of energy and spirit. There is more to us than meets the eye. The scientists and writers of our day have climbed the mountain to sit with the church mystics and behold the view of what it is to be human. They come to remind us of the splendor of that view, and open our eyes again to the marvel of what we are through God in language which is finally intelligent and of the people. It was through one of these contemporary authors that I began to look again at my vow to lay hands on the sick. Tom Harpur was being interviewed about his journey and book, The Uncommon Touch.

He spoke of Therapeutic Touch (TT) and its roots in Christian healing. In the context of quantum physics and supported by a growing body of medical evidence, Christian healing could finally be understood as a natural aspect of what we are designed to be.

Immediately I bought the book, and many others. I located a Recognized TT Practitioner and Practice group. I began my training and returned to what I had promised to do: lay my hands on the sick.

Looking at how we could incorporate this into the ministry of the church, a prayer and healing circle was formed. Hundreds of medical studies and articles were collected.

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We began to explore. And we began to ask: how could we incorporate this into our worship.

After receiving communion, people now may remain at the altar to receive the laying-on-of-hands, actually a brief TT moment. Some speak of experiencing tingling, heat, seeing light, . . . all speak of being touched in a profound and gentle way.

Appointments are made for individual treatments, and a growing number are discovering, through the prayer circle, the gift within each of us to heal, to help, to be so much more than flesh and blood. At the core of effective treatment is the practitioner's ability to centre. With this as the focus, our prayer circle has adopted the meditative practices of the early church, learned through World Community of Christian Meditators. Prayer is re-understood, not as something you do, but a way of being, a communing with God who is always within. Recovering the practice of prayer and healing has meant recovering ourselves as expressions of God's love, through whom God continues to flow.

Four level one TT workshops have trained almost 25 people from two parishes. Presentations on the nature of healing energy, the power of prayer, and the connection between the mystical, scientific and religious realms have sparked the imagination of hundreds. People are invited to consider a new perspective on the power of prayer, the laying-on-of-hands, and the nature of healing energy from a variety of sources, including chaos and quantum theory, primary perception among plant life, and medical studies. The nature of our spiritual anatomy is explored through Therapeutic Touch, and the foundation in scripture provides a modern mysticism that many have found refreshing, intelligent and exciting.

Two parish nurses now run a variety of health and spirit programs which compliment existing ministries: monthly TT practice, blood pressure and glucose clinic, senior's day program with a full time RN, community kitchen and organic community garden, smoking cessation, AA, Al Anon, yoga, exercise and meditation classes, grief counselling, personal health counselling, CPR and First Aid classes, cancer support and hospital visitation . . . What began as a traditional congregation has become a spiritual health care centre!

As a part-time chaplain of Queen Elizabeth Health Sciences Centre, Therapeutic Touch has been an integrated component of my pastoral care. Presentations to fellow chaplains at the hospital and at a National Convention for chaplains (The Canadian Association of Pastoral Practice and Education - CAPPE) draw upon the theory and practice of TT in a hospital setting.

I have found wonderful results in pain management and anxiety reduction at the hospital bed, which leaves the patients and family wide-eyed with wonder and curiosity. Through the encouragement of nursing staff., a proposal for using TT in the burn unit of the QEII, for pain and stress management has been approved by nursing staff and the surgeon heading the department. Nurse training in level one begins this year with monitoring of lymphocyte, electrolyte and pain levels to determine TT's impact on patient care.

Could it be that God's healing presence could be experienced so simply, as Jesus demonstrated? With a word, with simple intention, He was able to restore lives of wholeness and peace. Connecting to God has always had that result, and it is this connection between spirituality and health that is regaining interest among the professional and popular communities.

Are we also "hot-wired for God", however imperfectly it may be manifest through us? The groundswell of interest has sparked a renaissance in health care that is philosophically at the heart of the Christian faith and the commission of Christ to go and preach the good news. and calls us to grow into disciples who lay our hands on the sick in the name of (in the character, the trust, the power) of Christ.

Therapeutic Touch has been an intelligent and beautiful expression of that commission, and reminds us that we are most instrumental in caring for our own health. We are not at the mercy of social health care systems or technology. What a gospel for Canada! Churches can be empowering communities of faith in this renaissance. After all, they began as centres of spiritual care, which encompassed everything: individual and community health; economic justice and ecological care; physical, emotional, psychic wholeness.

In fact the meaning of the word 'salvation' means wholeness, not life after death as is commonly believed. This is a wholeness brought to completion in that other realm, yet is also one we are told is here and now. As we reconnect with the full spectrum of the reality we now perceive only in part, and allow it to flow through us, that wholeness is restored in our relationships, community and world.

The scope is huge! The application is one life at a time. The result is nothing less than the promise Christ gave: the realm of heaven is not far from us. Indeed, it's always been here.

This type of renewal is not uncommon. It does take many forms, from television charismatic expressions to renewal movements in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglicans' Alpha Programme here in Canada. What we must be wary of is the judgement so often placed on these expressions by 'outsiders' and the judgement those 'in' the church place on Therapeutic Touch. Both do inevitably manifest unhealthy and narrow components.

At 'Peace', we are all too aware of the importance of maintaining integrity within Christian practice, but we do so without allowing our understanding of doctrine to limit how God's healing can be manifest. Parish nursing and Therapeutic Touch have provided this church with not only the ministry of healing, but the opportunity to explore intelligently our faith, our hope, and our calling.


The Rev. David Maginley is a Practice Group Leader in Windsor, NS. This article has been reprinted from the June, 2001 issue of "The Eastern Synod Lutheran".


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January 2006

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