From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
CHURCHES REDISCOVER HEALING SERVICES
05 May 1996 13:22:53
95233 CHURCHES REDISCOVER HEALING SERVICES
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--When the liturgy for intercession for healing began,
Deborah Wyatt prayed:
Grant us comfort and healing for all
who have lost a child to disease or accident
who are unable to conceive or carry a child
who have lost a child to miscarriage
whose child was stillborn
who endured the trauma of abortion
who have given a child for adoption
who are estranged from a child
whose child has fallen victim to drugs or crime
who have lost custody or visitation rights
whose childbearing years are numbered or over
whose life circumstances may not allow them the option of parenthood
who are overwhelmed with the daily burden of caring for their children
whose children have special needs
who were abused, abandoned or neglected in their own childhoods
who suffer the guilt of ambivalent feelings
whose hearts carry other, unnamed burdens.
It was May 14, Mother's Day. And more than 85 people came to an
evening service for wholeness at the Edgewood Presbyterian Church in
Birmingham, Ala. They came for prayer and for anointing with oil.
Two-thirds of those who attended were not even part of the Edgewood
They came, says the Rev. Sid Burgess, Edgewood's pastor, because they
hurt and because they want the kind of healing only possible by reaching
out to God.
"The liturgical resources we have are uniquely ours," said Burgess.
"The liturgy has the capacity to minister to people: people in need,
people who are hurting. It was something we could offer. ...
"And two-thirds of those who came were complete strangers to this
church. That shows the depth of pain many women feel on Mother's Day:
They're willing to come to a strange place with such deep hurt."
While many pastors and theologians categorically reject much mention
of secular holidays in worship, some are taking a second look at how
scripture and liturgy may address the hurts that affect people most -- the
very private, hard-to-talk-about kinds.
"It's an issue of reality in worship," said the Rev. John McClure,
professor of homiletics at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
"Does worship relate to reality ... or is it in the ethereal realm?
"There are strangers right there in our midst," McClure said, who need
to understand that their inner lives and spiritual struggles are welcome in
the church and may be expressed there. And a model is emerging and is
included in the new Directory for Worship that demonstrates an increasing
concern for ritual and expressive language, he said.
What is at issue, according to McClure, is finding a way to deal with
deep emotional pain within a highly rationalistic Reformed tradition
without succumbing to sentiment.
The Rev. Laura Rains, who preached during the Edgewood service, said
such balance is possible, and it is very powerful because more honest
liturgy frees people up to express their whole selves before God.
"As we are more open in claiming the ambivalence, the celebration, the
pain [in our lives], there is potential for more genuine celebration," she
said, adding that shutting off pain also means dulling joy too. "The
brokenness is there. ... [What we wanted to do at the Edgewood church was
say,] 'This is a safe place to come and let that burden down,' with
whatever their prayer may be,'" said Rains, who is a member of the pastoral
care department at Birmingham's University Hospital.
For women in that particular service, she said, it meant acknowledging
not only the grief of lost children, but guilts, angers, failures and
fatigue that is, realistically, part of being a mother and that seldom gets
Anointing with oil symbolized that the Spirit of God is present and is
healing, she said. Each woman who came forward took a moment for quiet
prayer with a minister and elder.
"Worship is something even a small church can afford, something even a
small church knows how to do," said Burgess, who added that this special
service was set apart from the regular Service for the Lord's Day.
"Therapy is an extraordinarily important way to address hurt and loss and
"But it is not the only resource the church has. ... The church also
has liturgy," said Burgess, whose wife, Melissa Tate Burgess, co-authored
the intercession for healing liturgy with Deborah Wyatt and Rains. The
Burgesses adopted their daughter, Grace, now eight.
The Rev. Kerry Lester of Pottstown, Pa., said ministers do not have to
look too deeply into scripture to see the importance of looking at family
entanglements and resulting pain and joy. "Just looking at brothers and
sisters, there's an incredible amount of pain and estrangement: Jacob and
Esau, Cain and Abel, the Prodigal Son.
"It's all there," said Lester. "The scripture is so full of family
stuff ... and that is certainly where people are."
She said more secular holidays may, perhaps, be reclaimed by the
church in educational ways. For instance, Lester suggests preaching on
Mother's Day about biblical images of God as mother, but keeping the focus
on God, or emphasizing the congregation's commitment to its "spiritual
children" during baptisms.
Lester said scripture is full of stories and metaphors that give
churches permission to access and talk about both the painful and the
celebrative moments of peoples' lives. "Time and time again it proves
itself to know human nature, who people are," said Lester.
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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