Faith and healing: everything is done in the name of placing a person's burden at the foot of the cross.
"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. Larry Mitchell introduced an innovation similar to the Rev. Canon Asselin's (see story at left). Mitchell is an archdeacon emeritus who for 29 years was rector of St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Saskatoon.
Early in his tenure, Mitchell became involved with the International Order of St. Luke the Physician (OSL), an ecumenical organization started in 1932 by John Gayner Banks, an Episcopalian priest. Today, with more than 7,000 current members, OSL provides missions, conferences, training and resources on Christian healing ministry.
"As a new priest, I wanted to make a real difference for the people coming to church who were hurting," says Mitchell.
One Sunday, after talking about how Jesus healed the sick, he invited people to come forward to the altar for a healing prayer. Then he turned and knelt in front of the altar. "I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to be fired!'" he recalls.
The lineup for healing extended along the altar rail and down the aisle to the back of the church. "That experience told me this is a ministry the church needs to develop," says Mitchell, who served as North American director of OSL from 2004 to 2011. The first Canadian to hold the office, he retired from OSL last year at age 70, but still serves as an ex officio board member.
Helping the dying find peace
Besides working as honorary lay pastoral assistant at St. Cuthbert's, Oakville, Brenda Garvey is multifaith chaplain at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ont., one of Canada's most multicultural cities. The experience of supporting a 38-year-old friend with three children through terminal breast cancer inspired Garvey to take a Master of Divinity degree, followed by clinical pastoral education and a one-year residency as a Toronto hospital chaplain. Garvey is also a licensed lay anointer. In 2006, Trillium hired Garvey to assist patients with cancer and other terminal illnesses and their families.
"Death is as much a sacred miracle as birth," says Garvey, who notes that when she anoints Anglican patients with the same oil with which they've been baptized, "they feel they have come full circle and been touched by God again."
As Garvey sees it, her job is to help people of different faiths, or of no faith, have "a good death experience." By offering comfort and meaning, Garvey helps them "to be present in each precious last moment.
"I walk in with Christ within me, looking at others with Christ within them, and try to help them find the peace within themselves," she says.
People feel more relaxed, whole
Pat Lithgoe, a parishioner of St. Christoper's, Burlington, trained as a nurse before learning Therapeutic Touch (TT), a "contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices" that promotes the natural healing process, according to the Therapeutic Touch Network of Ontario.
By giving demonstrations at church, Lithgoe encouraged fellow parishioners to receive TT training. Five years ago, a group obtained approval from their rector, the Ven. Dr. Steve Hopkins, to offer therapeutic touch before Sunday morning services in a quiet room removed from the sanctuary.
"People who receive it report feeling better, more whole and more relaxed, even in the midst of illness," says Hopkins. "I'm happy to walk this journey and explore how it fits within our ministry overall" he adds.
When Lithgoe turned 80, she turned coordination over to Jane Stephen, a retired high-school English teacher also trained in TT. "One thing Anglicans are remarkably good at is walking as a community with people through the whole course of their illness," says Hopkins, pointing out that some people may pray or offer a practice such as therapeutic touch, "while others make food for the sick or funeral receptions."
Victoria Gaitskell is a journalist and parishoner at St. Cuthbert's, Oakville, Ont.