One warm spring afternoon, a woman enters a small room overlooking the garden courtyard of Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. With a sigh she removes her headscarf and lies down on the massage table near the window. “It’s been a hard week,” she says. “But three more weeks and I’m done with chemotherapy.” A healing touch session at church. Photo: Bob Sessions
As music softly plays on the stereo, I gently place my hands on her feet as we begin our weekly Healing Touch session. For the next 45 minutes, I visualize divine blessings flowing into her, as I practice the ancient form of healing known as laying-on-of-hands.
I end our session by anointing the woman’s head with frankincense and saying a blessing. Afterwards she slowly opens her eyes. “There’s nowhere else in my life where I can experience this kind of deep relaxation and peace,” she says. “Thank you—I feel like myself again.”
Once again, I am amazed by the sense of quiet grace that blesses these Healing Touch sessions in our church.
My participation in this ministry is the fruit of many years of interest in healing, particularly in the growing research on the mind/body connection and the ways in which spirituality can be a powerful adjunct to conventional medical treatments. So when our church began sponsoring a series of workshops given by the Colorado-based Healing Touch Spiritual Ministry
program in 2003, I was eager to learn more.
In our classes I heard about the ancient healing traditions of Christianity. Healing the sick was a central part of Jesus’ ministry and of the early Christian church. The gospels are full of stories about Jesus healing the sick, and Jesus commanded his followers to go and do likewise. But this emphasis was gradually lost over the centuries as illness became solely the domain of physicians and hospitals.
Healing Touch is a modern version of this time-honored practice. Many traditional cultures have recognized that a gentle touch is soothing to those who are ill. More recently, studies conducted at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute
have proven that touch is an essential part of human health. Skin is the human body’s largest organ, containing millions of receptors that send messages through nerve fibers to the brain. A simple touch has been shown to reduce a person’s heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress levels.
Started by a Nurse, It Became a Ministry
Healing Touch as a form of complementary medicine was developed by a nurse, Janet Mentgen, in 1989, as a way to assist the body’s natural healing process by redirecting and rebalancing its energy fields. During a session, practitioners gently place their hands on or above the person’s fully clothed body. Today an estimated 30,000 nurses use HT techniques in medical settings to reduce tension and anxiety, enhance wound healing, reduce post-surgical pain and use of pain medication, and trigger a sense of relaxation in patients. (The related techniques of Reiki
and Therapeutic Touch
have many similarities to Healing Touch, but feature different training programs and philosophies.)
In the 1990s, HT practitioner Linda Smith took note of the many connections between Healing Touch and Christian healing traditions. In 1997 Smith founded Healing Touch Spiritual Ministry as a way of reclaiming the church’s early commitment to healing.
“As practitioners of Healing Touch, we are instruments through which God’s healing energy flows,” says Smith, author of "Called Into Healing: Reclaiming our Judeo-Christian Legacy of Healing Touch." “We address the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions of a person. The word ‘heal’ comes from the Old English word haelen, which means to make whole. Healing involves restoring balance to a person’s mind, body, and soul. An abatement of symptoms may be part of a healing, but healing can occur even if the illness isn’t cured in the physical sense.”
Who's Doing It?
A growing number of churches are involved in a hands-on healing ministry, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Congregational, and Episcopal parishes around the nation. Among those who are now doing this healing work are clergy, hospice volunteers, parish nurses, chaplains, and members of prayer teams.