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Parishes encouraged to develop their ministry of healing

The healing ministry is one of the greatest opportunities the Church has today for sharing the Gospel, says the report of a review chaired by the Rt Rev John Perry, Bishop of Chelmsford. To encourage a wise and appropriate exercise of this ministry in congregations, Church of England clergy will receive a handbook on the development of good practice.

Today, according to the introduction to A Time to Heal, the first review of the ministry of healing for 40 years, "many in our society, realise there is a spiritual as well as a physical and a mental dimension to healthy living. 'Wholeness' is the in-word: it is what everyone longs for." "As the report stresses," says the Bishop of Chelmsford, "there is nothing predictable in the ministry of healing except the assurance of God's love and care. Where physical healing does not take place, a healing on an emotional, psychological or spiritual level may be the primary need."

The review, set up by the House of Bishops, was asked to assess the theological understanding and the state of the ministry of healing in the Church of England. It was also asked to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this ministry, taking into account the activities of different groups not only within the Church but also ecumenically. It found the ministry visionary, prophetic and dynamic and concluded it is a Gospel imperative, not an optional extra or minority interest.
A Time to Heal offers far-reaching recommendations aimed at developing the healing ministry within the Church of England into an effective part of normal parish life, supported and coordinated at both diocesan and national level. It supports ecumenical cooperation in the ministry of healing and recommends improved training for clergy and laity alongside the adoption of guidelines for good practice. Links with the medical and caring professions should be encouraged, says the report, which also recommends the setting up of a review group to assess the compatibility with Christian teaching of widely used forms of complementary medicine and alternative therapies.

"No-one involved in the Church's ministry of healing can fail to be confronted by the universal, inexplicable mystery of suffering," says Bishop John Perry in his preface to the report. "Moreover, whatever its causes, suffering is personal to us all in one form or another.

"A Time to Heal is offered as a contribution and resource to the Church's continuing ministry of healing in obedience to the commission of Jesus Christ to heal the sick. It is a Gospel imperative."

A Time to Heal, which has only the authority of the working party that produced it, is published by Church House Publishing (£9.95, handbook £2.95) and is available from all good Christian bookshops or by mail order from Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel 020-7898 1300, fax 020-7898 1305.