Last week, my cousin, Doug, mentioned that his family had had an announting service for his older brother, who is struggling with some health issues. He suggested that I might find this comforting. Our church periodically has had annointing (healing) services for members who are ill, but also for those who are entering into some leadership position. However, those are usually done during or after a church service, with an entire congregation taking part.
I’m a little leery of feeling so “exposed” in front of a large group of people, so knew that wouldn’t work for me. So I talked with our associate pastor, Louise Wideman, about having a private annointing service with just family members, and in one of my favorite places — at the edge of a local quarry, which is no longer a working quarry, but has for years been filled with water. There is a path that leads to the water’s edge, where the village placed large square rocks, perfect for sitting on. It’s the place I go often during a walk or run, to sit and think about whatever I’m facing.
The timing was perfect, because two of my brothers and one sister-in-law were in town, so they were able to attend, along with my mom, my aunt, my husband, Louise and me. Oh. Right. And about a million cicadas. All voicing their opinions throughout the entire service. In fact, my husband taped it on the Flip, but the cicadas drowned out most of the human conversation. I figure that was just nature taking part.
In the days leading up to the service, Louise and I had a few conversations, during which she explained the history of announting services. This may help others understand.
*Biblically, anointing was used in the Old Testament for several reasons – leaders were anointed for their special roles; a person was anointed for comfort (Psalm 23:5); anointing oil was used in the cleansing ritual for lepers; and objects in the tabernacle were anointed for use in worship. In the New Testament, Jesus had a ministry of healing people and James 5 includes instructions for anointing the sick with oil.
“In our Mennonite history, anointing services in the past have been very private and often with persons who are extremely ill. Today however, several congregations offer anointing at the end or during a worship service in the context of the congregation for any variety of reasons – physical or emotional health and well being, commissioning for leadership and spiritual renewal.
“We know there is a connection between the mind, body, and spirit – so that when a person is anointed, we are considering the whole person. Anointing with oil for healing is a means of God’s grace and blessing intended to bring restoration of wholeness and health.”
Prior to the service, Louise asked me to reflect on my illness, my ongoing anxieties and fears relating to it, as well as my hopes for the upcoming weeks. This kind of thing is very hard for me to do openly. Somehow I managed to put down a few thoughts — mostly, I think, because I’d spent the week with some pretty indepth conversations with my brothers and of course, my husband. One thing I mentioned is that I recently asked my aunt for some advice on prayer. I’ve always been so awed by her very thoughtful prayers. They remind me of my grandfather’s — he was a pastor. Her very simple response eased my own thoughts about praying for personal things.
We began the service at 7 p.m., just as a fishing boat crossed the water. I think they sensed something private because they immediately moved to the far side of the lake. We began with my brother and SIL singing “Amazing Grace”, followed by Louise’s explanation of the annointing service, some scriptures, prayer, a song by Louise, my own statement. There was a brief “laying on of hands” and the others were invited to say something.
It was a brief, but meaningful service. For me — a very private person when it comes to faith — this was a new experience. All day today I’ve thought about it. I don’t feel greatly changed, but I do feel comforted. My anxiety is slowly easing, and I hope that over the next few weeks as I reflect on this, I’ll continue to relax and better focus on recovering with a more positive attitude.