FOR MANY, spiritual healing calls to mind televangelists such as Benny Hinn, whose "Miracle Crusade" fills huge stadiums and sends devotees fainting backwards into the arms of burly attendants. In contrast, Anglicans have their own form of spiritual healing, one that seeks to imitate the acts of Christ with quiet compassion.
"Anglican healing has nothing to do with placing the emphasis on a cure," explains Shelley Tidy, pastoral care associate at St. Paul's Bloor Street in Toronto, who for the past six years has chaired the Bishop's Committee on Healing in the diocese of Toronto. "Everything is done in the name of lightening a person's burden by placing it at the foot of the cross," she says.
From small disappointments--such as losing a hockey game--to big-ticket items such as job loss or death of a loved one--"we see our prayer bearing fruit in our lives," says Tidy, adding that this doesn't mean physically curing a problem but rather offering "a better support system, or a better ability to live with pain or find meaning in suffering."
Anglican healing sacraments include the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, both accompanied by prayer. While performing the laying on of hands is restricted to ordained clergy, anointing may also be performed by licensed laity under the supervision of a priest.
Every year, Tidy runs a popular fall weekend program at the Convent of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto to train lay anointers through lectures, practical training, group discussion and prayer. Before training, a prospective lay anointer must receive approval from his or her incumbent and undergo a screening process. After completing the program, the incumbent petitions the area bishop to grant a licence. The annual program is often booked to capacity.
There are many congregations and individuals working to promote healing ministry, both in parish settings and in their larger communities.
Speaking to a need
Last October, the Rev. Canon Joseph Asselin, rector of St. Cuthbert's, Oakville, Ont., observed St. Luke the Physician's Day by inviting Bishop Michael Bird of the diocese of Niagara to perform a laying on of hands at the altar rail after communion. At first, some in the congregation balked. Some even boycotted the service. "So we went out of our way to make it nonthreatening and ordinary, the way it should be," explains Asselin.
He estimates that 70 per cent of the people present at the service opted for healing. "It speaks to a need. Now that the controversy has died down and we have established trust, we plan on doing it more regularly," Asselin says.
The Toronto convent where lay anointers are trained is the Mother House of the historic Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, which was founded in 1884. Next door is St. John's Rehab Hospital, the convalescent hospital founded by the sisters. Today, it provides specialized rehabilitation services to 160 inpatients and a large and growing number of outpatients. This year, St. John's celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Four sisters provide spiritual and compassionate care to all hospital patients and run the hospital's Anglican chapel. Patients and staff use the chapel, which also provides a Wednesday morning Anglican eucharist with laying on of hands and an ecumenical Sunday service. In addition, the chapel has a Muslim prayer mat and a blank wall facing Mecca. On Fridays, priests bring communion to Roman Catholic patients, and the sisters provide Sabbath candles to patients of the Hebrew faith.
Adjoining the sisters' living quarters is a guest house that accommodates families of out-of-town hospital patients and an eight-bed infirmary for the nuns. It is staffed with nurses and personal-care workers, whose oldest charge, Sister Constance, is 108.
A ministry the church needs
About four decades ago. …