Christine Conlin feels the power of a hands on service!
“It will just be a routine assignment.”
Such was my expectation of my first story of 2016, attending a new addition to St Michael’s programme of worship, their monthly Service of Wholeness.
At a quarter to four on Sunday, January 3rd, I nosed my small hatchback up St Michael’s driveway, hoping to park on the tarmac strip beside the church. To avoid having to reverse out, I attempted to make a turn on the grassy area beside it. Bad idea!! Totally saturated, the ground provided no grip and every move I tried to make risked bogging me down further.
I needed a push, but passers-by were few and darkness was on its way. So I dashed into church, my boots splattering mud all down the aisle. At the end of it, half a dozen people sitting in a small circle with Rector Ian Cardinal were quietly waiting to begin. In my heightened state, I somehow noticed the Christmas puddings embroidered on his white stole.
“Can anyone help me?”
I appealed. Only later did I realise that the order of service included the Gospel text:
“Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.”
I hadn’t even needed to ask.
“Two of us spotted that a car had got stuck and have gone out to help,”
Rev Ian gently replied. I dashed back out after them. The two introduced themselves as Jane, a lady I judged to be of working age and physically fit and Ted, a sprightly, but retired older gentleman.
At my insistence, Ted got behind the driving wheel, while Jane and myself laid hands on the rear. But to no avail, the car would not budge. But suddenly out of nowhere, more helpers appeared, including a young man with a gingery beard who took charge of the situation.
With a combination of their rocking and my revving (I had taken Ted’s place behind the wheel) we lurched the car back onto the tarmac. Praise be – and sincerest thanks to all my rescuers!
Having washed my hands in the vestry, I was more than usually receptive to the music, prayers and responses of this informal, hour-long service. “We pray for those experiencing life in the shadows,” ran a line of the bidding prayer.
“That was me, just minutes ago,” I thought.
The service reaches its climax with the anointing, followed by the laying on of hands (though taking part in this stage is voluntary). Having first been anointed by one of those present, Rev Ian came to each in turn and drew a cross on his or her forehead in holy oil saying:
“May you know God’s blessing upon you this day and every day.”
Then two lay members went round the other participants, spending a minute or two with their two hands pressed lightly on their shoulders, praying that this should form a channel for them to receive divine help. The service concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing.
Afterwards, I had a chance to ask people why they’d come.
“I had lots of health problems last year,” said regular churchgoer John. “Through medicine, prayer and patience these are thankfully now resolved, but as I get older, I need all the support I can get.”
“There’s a serenity about it and a wonderful feeling of fellowship,” explained my rescuer Ted. As I later discovered, Ted, an ex-WW2 pilot, is a former treasurer of St Michael’s and 91 next birthday! Surely he’s living proof that these healing services work!
“They bring an awareness of God in a different way,” said my fellow-rescuer Jane Morris. A former Salvation Army officer, Jane will succeed the Rev Sally Smith as curate of St Michael’s this summer. “It’s calming, inspiring and moving and it’s good to pray for each other.”
Stone’s Wholeness Services, which are held at 4 pm on the first Sunday of the month, are the joint inspiration of Rev Ian, Rev Sally and congregation member Lin Davies, who says she was drawn to healing at the same time as becoming a Lay Reader at St Michaels.
“It is not just the powers of the priest but the powers of the Church,” replied Rev Ian in response to my noticing that clergy and laypeople took equal roles in it. “It is a Christian service, but open to people of all faiths and none,” he also stressed. “There is space either during the service for people to voice prayers of their own, or, if they prefer, to speak to one of us afterwards in private.”
“It was a small turnout today but we have had up to two dozen attend in the past,” Lin explained. “People come when they need us.”
I certainly came away feeling the better for it. Even if you’re an agnostic or an atheist, you’d still benefit from the welcome, the fellow feeling and the TLC.
“You’ll need to get your car washed now!” observed Rev Ian on spotting my filthy Fiesta. “Too right,” I agreed. “I’ll go and get it baptised!”