Recently I was asked to go to York and speak at a day conference there for deacons and diaconal enquirers (people who are wondering whether God is calling them to be a deacon). I knew roughly what I wanted to say, and spent some time putting a presentation together with a powerpoint.
But there was something missing. It lacked coherence, which wouldn’t come no matter how often I looked at it. So it was still incomplete when we started on our journey from Devon to York.
En route we were staying with my sister who lives in Lancashire. On the day we were due to leave, she asked whether we would mind if she attended mid-week Communion at her local parish church. It was a special day – St Luke’s Day – and the church bears his name. Moreover, Bishop Philip North would be there. St Luke was a Greek doctor, so on his day there is an emphasis on healing. There would be an opportunity to receive the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil – the church’s way of offering Christ’s healing grace.
Faced with such a spiritual feast, we could only say ‘can we come too?’ Sis and I are particularly interested in the church’s ministry of healing, because our grandfather, a priest, had a gift of healing, and people were healed through his ministry (witnessed by doctors’ statements). She and I also have a soft spot for Bishop Philip.
The service was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. Bishop Philip gave a humdinger of a talk – simple, but profound – explaining that when we pray for healing, we are usually looking backwards, to how we were before we were ill, and we were in effect asking God to take us back there.
However, when Jesus healed people, it was always a forward-looking act. It was not so that they could go back to a previous life, but it was for them to go forward into God’s calling to them.
It was a new take for me, and I loved it. On that basis, as I was still feeling wobbly about the upcoming conference, I went to the altar rail for the laying on of hands with prayer – on my head, firm, confident – and the anointing with oil on my forehead and the palms of my hands.
I can’t say there were suddenly choirs of angels, or anything changed around me, but as we drove away in the car, I suddenly saw what I should do with my presentation. I had a verse from the book of Isaiah come into my head, and I realised that I could apply it in a number of ways. It would create the coherence which was lacking.
The conference went well and there are some very positive things emerging from it already. Maybe that was because Bishop Philip had promised to pray for me.
And my sis, of course!