Guidelines for Good Practice for those involved in the Christian healing ministry
In every act of worship, the Church celebrates the grace of God who desires wholeness of body, mind and spirit for all people.
There are occasions when it is appropriate to hold services focused particularly on healing ministry. It is best practice that these are part of the whole pastoral policy of the local church, rather than an isolated 'one-off'.
The pastoral (or healing) team needs to consider:
- What is the most appropriate setting and style of ministry.
- Any personal safety issues arising when offering ministry in a person's home.
- How best to ensure the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.
- When in a hospital or hospice, the need to introduce team members to a member of staff.
- The benefit of inviting friends and family of the person receiving ministry to be present. Healing (rather than cure) is about a person's whole life and this includes their network of relationships.
In order to build a relationship of trust with the person being visited it is important to be clear that you will treat the things they share with you in confidence.
There are two exceptions to this; the first is if they specifically give you permission to share something they have said with another person (e.g. they give permission for a situation they are facing to be mentioned in the intercessions at church, or passed on to the presbyter, deacon or a prayer group).
Secondly, if the person says something that leads you to think they or another person are at risk you have a duty of care to pass this on to the appropriate person or agency. See the latest Safeguarding Children and Young People policy of the Methodist Church for advice.
You may wish to work out a confidentiality policy within your Church Pastoral Meeting, Church Council or Circuit Meeting. This policy will need to include an understanding of what a visitor passes on to the support person that they have been provided by church or circuit. This may also involve having a person outside the circuit, who in more sensitive cases is able to offer support from an appropriate distance than those close to people involved.
Authorisation and Accountability
Those involved in this ministry should be authorised by the Church Council and acknowledged within an act of worship, either as part of the recognition of pastoral visitors, or in a separate service. As with any pastoral ministry, those involved should have a system of structured support, for their own development and as a way of ensuring best practice.
Touch and the Laying on of Hands
Touch should always be used with care and forethought and permission sought. Jesus used touch at times in his ministry and its wise use can give a message of acceptance and value - a warm handshake can help to establish a relationship; holding a person's hand can be very comforting. It is important to remember that some people cannot bear to be touched, sensitivity is very important.
Laying on of hands is an ancient Christian tradition. The person offering the ministry represents the whole congregation on behalf of God, from whom all healing comes. In public acts of worship, when ministry is usually given at the communion table or rail, the most common practice is to lay hands on the head or shoulders of the recipient. People need to be free to come forward without feeling they are obliged to say who they are or why they have come.
Ministry offered in prayer groups or fellowship meetings, or with an individual offers an opportunity to discuss the problem at more length. Hands may be laid on the head during the prayers for healing. Prayers should be for the renewal of the Holy Spirit's presence and power, for God's peace and love to fill their mind, for their sins to be forgiven and for healing of the body.
If dealing with a physical ailment, the recipient might be invited to take the hand of the person offering prayer and place it on the troubled area. This requires great sensitivity but has the potential to promote a feeling of participating in one's own healing. It is important that such physical acts take place with other people present or close to hand.
Praise and thanks to God is an appropriate way to end each time of ministry, asking that the healing given will continue.
Anointing with oil is usually reserved for special needs or more acute or serious conditions. See the Methodist Worship Book (pg 407-421) for helpful instructions.
Some people will want to focus on 'proofs' of healing. Phenomena that can accompany the healing ministry, such as being 'slain in the Spirit', should not be seen as a measure of effective healing, although they may be a genuine expression of release of tension and acceptance of the possibility of God's healing power.
Intercessory prayer includes the provision for worshippers to intercede for others for whom they have a particular concern. There may be times when someone wishes to receive the laying on of hands on behalf of another person who cannot or will not come for themselves. Opinions differ as to the appropriateness and use of this practice of proxy healing. Those involved with the Church's ministry of healing will need to consider whether such opportunities are to be offered.
Others involved in caring
There will be occasions when it is appropriate to consult with others involved in the care of a person being offered healing ministry. Confidentiality and known medical advice should be respected.
Awareness of limitations
Whilst called to be confident in the ministry we offer, it is important to be aware of limitations, e.g. regarding psychiatric expertise when working with a person with mental health issues. Awareness of other healing agencies and a willingness to refer is important.
A Time to Heal, A Contribution Towards The Ministry of Healing, Church House Publishing
Healed, Restored, Forgiven, Liturgies, Prayers and Readings for the Ministry of Healing, John Gunstone, Canterbury Press, Norwich
The Revd John Atkinson is the Connexional Health and Healing Advisor.