Christian faith and healing during a modern day pandemic

How The Guild of Health & St. Raphael is helping others with its daily on-line noon prayer service during these testing times.

By The Revd. Dr. Gillian Straine

20 April 2020

Each Thursday, my family and I go to the end of our driveway, the kids armed with roasting tins and wooden spoons. We are usually the first to arrive and stand looking up and down the road, in anticipation. Soon, the other residents begin to appear on the pavement. Before the lockdown, we might have nodded to a neighbour in our self contained north London street; now we wave at them as if our life depends on it and they wave back equally excited. At 8pm, with the rest of the nation, we clap for the carers or bang wooden spoons on my increasingly battered roasting tins. And then with a final wave we retreat back into the safety of our home.

The waving somehow feels important and necessary. And it reminds me of being on boats. I am not sure if it is an actual law, but if you are on the water you always wave to another boat. It might be a sailing dinghy, a canoe or a ferry leaving a port – you wave. And the wave means ‘Hello!’ and it means ‘Are you okay?’

Traditionally the church is often understood to be like a boat providing shelter and safety for the community as together we navigate the normal stormy waters of life. Indeed, the central section of the church where the laity sit is called the Nave, from ‘Naval’. In the Christian theological tradition, the crossing of water is a journey through death to life – think of Moses leading the Israelites through the Red sea to escape the Egyptians, or Baptism where the candidate becomes a Christian by being united with the death and resurrection of Christ as they pass through the holy water.

But our churches are shut on government advice to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. They are empty, cold and dark often for the first time since they were built. The ship is no longer available to help navigate us through these dark and uncertain times. And we don’t know when they will open again.

But, Christians have not stopped meeting with many services moving online – and it is going surprisingly well. People of all ages are learning new technologies and meeting online to pray and worship together. It is not the same, but there is something spiritually healing and moving about ‘zooming’ into the people’s personal space and waving to them across cyber space. The comfort is real, tangible and hopeful.

It many ways, this is no surprise. These are frightening and uncertain times, and the prayer and waving is needed much like it is when in a boat on water. We are more vulnerable now and the exposure has helped us realise some genuine needs when all the dross and distraction have been removed.

The church has always been important in times of pandemic and plague.

Indeed, some scholars have argued that it was precisely because of its response to plague during the early centuries that it did so well in terms of growth. Christianity was good in a crisis compared to the competition.

Care of the sick was an unusual part of early Christian mission work. The reason is that within the theology and practice of the early Christians, there was a desire to imitate Christ, named ‘the great physician’ by Origen of Alexandria, a very early theologian. This meant practicing charity, going to the ill and serving the outcast, often by crossing social boundaries. This was in contrast to the pagan practises, which associated sickness with fear. Indeed, Polycarp of Smyrna, an early Bishop, wrote that the care of the sick was the primary task of Christian leaders. Many holy men and the early monasteries offered a place of respite and healing through their knowledge of plants and their healing properties. Indeed, our health service today finds its origins in the early Christian practices and to the monastic traditions of knowledge and care.

The Guild of Health and St Raphael is an ecumenical healing organisation established in 1905 with the aim of resourcing Christians and churches to carry out the healing ministry, to enter into conversation with science and medicine and to present the healing ministry as one that helps all people to flourish and live well.

We’re here to help.

The Guild has always responded to what is going on in the world and the needs of Christians. Unless you are a keyworker, you cannot go to the sick and physically serve them in today’s COVID-19 plague, but the calling to imitate Christ, to bring health and hope remains the same. To answer this today, we are helping Christians to bring healing and hope by offering an online prayer service daily and building up a global community of people receiving prayer requests and meeting to offer them to God.

The ministry is growing and we are receiving prayer requests from all over the world. COVID-19 is impacting the lives of people on a multitude of levels. People are ill and dying. People are afraid and alone; and we are all living with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. By coming together to pray, by offering people the platform to send prayer requests 24/7 to a group committed to care, we are providing a place of hope and healing to all.

Last week a doctor joined us live to ask us to pray for him as he went into surgery, a group in Barbadoes have been sending pray requests for the ill of their community, we have been giving thanks when people recover, and daily praying for those who will face their death from COVID-19 that day, asking God to be with them in their final moments far from their loved ones, asking God to send comfort and peace so that they know that they are never been alone, because we are promised by God that nothing can separate us from love.

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Gillian Straine is CEO of The Guild of Health and St. Raphael.

Since 1905, The Guild of Health and St Raphael have been working at the interface of science, theology and human experience to explore the potential of Christian spiritual healing. It continues today through events, networks and resources to enable individuals and churches to find wholeness and healing for self and community, and to work together for the flourishing of all of creation.