For some, the Healing Service at St Andrew’s Cathedral is somewhat of an anomaly for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney – some have even suggested a novelty. But for those coming for prayer, theological debate and Diocesan traditions are the furthest things in their mind. They seek God’s divine healing.
The Cathedral’s weekly program has a diversity unlike many other churches. 1662 Book of Common Prayer holy communion and evensong robed Services sit beside the liturgy free evening church where it’s not uncommon to see the preacher in shorts (even the Dean). Yet time and time again when talking to visitors to our Cathedral who have done their homework visiting our Cathedral web site, they share the same question: “I noticed you have a Healing Service... what happens there?”
My answer is simple: we gather together to ask God to heal us. We respond to God’s mercy in prayer. We take comfort in God’s sovereignty in all things. And we rejoice in the knowledge of God’s love displayed in Jesus’ atoning death for us.
The Healing Service has for close to sixty years gathered every Wednesday night in the Cathedral at 6pm to pray for the needs of all those who come. And they all come. Homeless and rich. Doctors and accountants. Lawyers and civil servants. Teachers and nurses. Retirees and unemployed.
On my first visit, I was expecting to see a line of people in wheelchairs. Instead I saw people who looked like me. People impacted by sin. The litany of needs brought to God include depression, addiction, loneliness, sickness, anxiety, unemployment, disease, pain, grief, fear and guilt. People ask for prayer for themselves and loved ones.
To most who are used to a modern church service, the Healing Service is not un-similar to the usual Sydney Anglican Church in the burbs. That is to say, Scripture is read followed be a sermon based on the passage. Songs are sung. There is a little liturgy (confession and absolution). Supper follows the conclusion. Regrettably, there is even announcements (they always take too long). But significantly, there is a significant time allotted to personal prayer.
Towards the end of the Service, personal prayer is offered. In particular, prayer for healing. Our prayer team respond to people who put their hands in the air, by sitting beside our guests, asking what we may pray for, placing a hand on their shoulder and then asking God for healing.
Prayer for healing may be for physical, spiritual, emotional or relational needs. We make it clear, it is not a time of counselling or to hear confession. Our prayer team are not expert Christians or professional prayers. They themselves have been recipients of prayer at the Healing Service.
Visually, to see thirty hands go into the air, and then the same number of Christians moving amongst the pews to sit beside people is an amazing sight. Christians praying in twos and threes is an amazing physical sign of our dependence on God that we should be used to seeing.
The Healing Service seeks to be a safe place for people to receive a listening ear and believing prayer. As a Church and leaders of this ministry we are acutely aware of the excesses of healing ministries and their reputational damage to the gospel. Interesting for those seeking prayer, this is often the least of their concerns. But it is always in our thoughts. We assume a fragility in all who attend. Our team members abide by a code of conduct (renewed annually). Our practice compliments our Cathedral and Diocese.
We are unashamed in teaching that our most profound healing is spiritual. The forgiveness of our sins by the death of Jesus is our primary focus. We are overjoyed as a community when people come into the Cathedral for prayer and leave in a relationship with Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. People become Christians at the Wednesday Healing Service. When Phillip Jensen became Dean of the Cathedral, he noted publicly the incredible number of people who had become Christians through this ministry. C.S. Lewis spoke aptly when he said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
We are not embarrassed when God does not answer our prayers in the way we ask. We entrust ourselves to him. He is God. He is Sovereign. Nothing is impossible for God. We ask for greater trust. We ask that in all things, his name may be glorified. We delight in shared experiences of pain and healing. Yet we are still left with questions, disappointments and grief as people on this side or Jesus’ return.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, in his Presidential Address in 2016 said “Prayer is one of God’s gifts of grace, which is essential for all our ministry, as it reminds us of our complete dependence upon God for how we live—or whether we live. Such miracles of healing are a fresh reminder of God’s love for us and of his desire that we continue to live for him and through him for his glory alone.”
We thank God for the privileges afforded to us in this ministry in the centre of Sydney that is neither anomaly nor novelty – but sits at the heart of the mission of the Church. Pointing people to a dependant relationship with God’s son and the privilege to ask God to heal.