Post Author: Melissa Bills
Third Sundays in our congregation are healing Sundays. During communion, two healing ministers position themselves behind the altar rail, anointing oil in hand, to offer healing prayers and blessings to anyone who approaches them.
Some people come forward to ask prayers for themselves – prayers for upcoming surgeries and for broken relationships and for grieving spirits.
Some people come forward to ask prayers for loved ones – prayers for family members in medical crisis or friends in economic distress.
Some people come forward asking for nothing in particular. They just want to hear again the good news that God binds up the broken-hearted and promises healing for us and for all creation.
Healing ministers lay hands on their shoulders, pray, trace the sign of the cross in oil on their foreheads, and remind them, “You are a blessed and beloved child of God, and you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” There is nothing in death or in life that can separate these beloved children from the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus.
It is a privilege to pray for healing. But as a church we recognize the great privilege it is for so many of our members to be called into the work of healing as their vocation, both inside the church and out in the community.
We have many caregivers in our congregation: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, hospice workers, guidance counselors, and the list goes on. At least once a year, we take the opportunity as a congregation to craft a Sunday morning worship service around themes of healing and caregiving, and to offer a special blessing for all the caregivers in our midst.
We believe that Jesus walks with all who are in need. We believe that Jesus carries us through our times of trouble. In the same way, Jesus empowers those who care for the needs of others and Jesus strengthens us to carry one another through times of trouble. Our experience of healing most often comes through the blessing of human hands and hearts that have been set apart for the work of tending to body and spirit. Caregivers of all kinds do this holy work. Their vocations take them to places of immense joy and profound grief. Their work is vital.
When we bless our caregivers in worship, we recognize and honor their gifts and their work. We involve the entire assembly into the blessing process, whether by using a spoken dialogue, inviting members to raise up a hand in blessing, or inviting the assembly to participate in a laying on of hands. We ask God to bless our caregivers and to give them strength and peace in their vocations. Should you want to include a blessing for caregivers as a part of your community’s worship life, here is a template to help you get started:
Blessing for Caregivers
Introduce the blessing using these or similar words (we wrote this introduction for our congregation, which holds an expansive understanding of caregiving professions):
Today we offer up prayers for healing and we give thanks to God for all who have been called to serve our community as healers and caregivers. We ask God’s blessing and protection for aides, nurses, doctors, activity directors, youth volunteers, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, counselors, hospice caregivers, first responders, and all who do the work of tending to human bodies, minds, and spirits.
Read a short passage from scripture related to healing.
Suggested passages: Matthew 25:34-40; Luke 4:38-40; Luke 5:17-26; Luke 9:1-2,6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-12; James 5:13-16
Invite caregivers into a position to be blessed.
Have them stand or come forward; have them kneel so others can lay hands on them; have them stand and stretch out their hands in front of them as a symbol of their work; etc.
Speak a litany of thanksgiving in dialogue with the assembly.
If you write your own, consider the specific, and perhaps unappreciated or unnoticed, ways that caregivers live out their vocation. Give thanks for the good work that the caregivers do, and also honor their fears, their doubts, or their exhaustion. For our context, we edited and adapted the hand blessing from Diane Neu’s healing liturgy, “In Praise of Hands”.
Conclude with a prayer of blessing.
Ask God specifically to bless caregivers and their work. Pray that God would strengthen them in their work and refresh their spirits. Commend them, their work, and those who they serve to the mercy of God, in the name of Jesus Christ, the divine healer.
Melissa Bills is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and is currently serving First Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa.
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Used with permission