Healing Services: A Well-Liked and Meaningful Ministry

As Parish Nurse for Abiding Christ, I had the honor and pleasure of inheriting a robust Healing Service program when I took over 4 years ago. Healing services were originally started by the previous parish nurse to introduce the concepts of parish nursing and the goal of recognizing the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of each individual. According to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), “The Brief Order for Healing is used in a variety of circumstances in the church's ministry of care. Those who sense the need for God's healing in any aspect of their lives may receive the gifts of prayer and laying on of hands, which may be accompanied by anointing with oil. These signs, first given in baptism, remind us that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked forever with the cross of Christ, who is health and salvation for the whole world. In its ministry of healing, the church does not replace the gifts of God that come through the scientific community, nor does it promise a cure. The church offers and celebrates God's presence with strength and comfort in time of suffering, God's promise of wholeness and peace, and God's love embodied in the community of faith.”

Our Healing Services are offered quarterly. The Nurturing Ministry Group (Health Ministry team) is responsible for this ministry although the pastors, parish nurse, Deacon/Worship Arts Director and the Faith Formation Director all work together to schedule the services on days that coincide with similar themes from the common lectionary and on similar festival days. The ministry team coordinates with the Altar Guild to prepare two small cups of oil and place them on the altar prior to the service. The oil is blessed at the time the words of institution are spoken for the bread and wine by the pastor. The nurses and/or members of the Health Ministry team who provide the anointing are called Anointing Assistants and there are two at each service. Anointing is offered at the time of communion. The Anointing Assistants stand off to each side of the isle and as people process to the front to receive communion, they have the option of being anointed after they receive communion. The assistant dips their finger into the oil, places the other hand on the person’s shoulder or arm and then makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead giving a blessing such as, “May God’s Spirit fill you with His healing grace.” The same phrase is spoken for each person who is anointed.

Important lessons that we have learned along the way include making sure that the blessing or words that are used by the Anointing Assistants should be uniform and approved by the pastor(s). The blessing should also be short because the line can become too long and delay the whole process of communion. It helps to have a small table next to each Anointing Assistant for the cup of oil so that the non-anointing hand is available to touch the person receiving the anointing.

The healing services are well-attended and whole-heartedly supported by our pastors. Each quarter, approximately 325-350 people receive anointing. Our main goal in offering this ministry is to be reminded of God’s grace and His promise to always be with us. Furthermore, the actual physical touching of the person by the Anointing Assistant is important to those who have not had or rarely have personal contact with someone and it conveys support and love for their journey (whatever it may be). We have received many forms of positive feedback from the members of our church such as inquiries about when the next healing service will be scheduled so that they can be sure to attend and, probably the most touching, is to see tears, a smile or the person stand up a little taller after they have been anointed. This simple act of touching and speaking God’s words of grace seems to build a strong sense of community as God’s people and church in this world.

Beth Ewing, Faith Community Nurse
Abiding Christ Lutheran Church and Lutheran Saints in Ministry Collaborative