By Austin Duru
WOMEN: Be still and know that I am God
MEN: Be still and know that I am God…
The alternating voices of men and women rang out in a rhythmic melody of heartfelt song in this unique annual ritual of prayer service and sacrament of the sick at the NACC conference. The celebration carried new meaning and an even more potent significance as members of NACC — old and new, living and deceased — converged in a true communion of saints to give thanks and pray for the sick and ailing members.
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of NACC. The national conference in Arlington, VA, in March was the highlight of this golden jubilee celebrating the presence and gifts that NACC brings and honoring deceased members who have walked this journey and are now resting in God’s Kingdom. The names of over 500 NACC members inscribed on the cloth that drapes the altar powerfully symbolize the memory of these men and women. At this prayer service and sacrament of the sick, their memory and presence was invoked to help intercede for current members of NACC struggling with illness or disease.
The words of the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God” put to a song by Barbara Bridge, powerfully captured the mood in the sacred space. The lights were dimmed, the curtains drawn, and the stage was set for a remarkable spiritual experience. The choir from St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, MD, led by Tracy McDonnell, sang so beautifully that I felt touched by an angel. Their singing lifted the spirit to draw down God’s blessings upon all present and made the “balm of Gilead” flow freely.
The Rev. Joseph M. Monahan and others assisting at this liturgy processed in to Bernadette Farrell’s song “Christ, Be Our Light.” The blessing of water and sprinkling rite was accompanied by the good old African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water.” The message here as we wade in the water is, when God troubles the water, the troubles in our lives will flee.
Jane Mather gave an inspiring reflection on the theme of healing, following the scripture reading (Romans 8: 31-35, 37-39). Mather remarked, “In our service as chaplains, we train ourselves to enter the rooms and the lives of those we serve, clothed in hope and grace and wholeness on behalf of those who believe that they are broken and hopeless. We walk with them, we pray with and for them, we strive to serve them and lift them up — to help shine the light of Christ in their darkest moments. But tonight might we also align ourselves
To nods of agreement and murmurs that seemed to say amen, Mather continued, “Some of us may be struggling with burdens of loss and loneliness too seemingly heavy to bear in our hearts — of families in crisis, spouses who have left us feeling as if our very identity has been amputated.”
Mather encouraged all present to shine the light to those “dark places of fear, doubt, pride, envy, or some other insidious form of emotional bacteria lurking in the shadows of our hearts.” She urged, “Open ourselves to our own need for healing, for hope, for grace and for restoration to wholeness in all of those tiny, dark, forgotten corners of ourselves — or for those glaring wounds that we see all too well and cannot see past!” She concluded, “Let us humble ourselves tonight to touch the hem of his garment and receive healing — to be blessed even as we prepare to return to our places of ministry and our roles of blessing others.”
Over 100 NACC members participated in this event. Those who were to be anointed were surrounded in prayer and support by other members who placed hands on their shoulders, while Mary Haugen’s song “Healer of Our Ev’ry Ill” was played. The refrain is a prayer in itself: “Healer of our ev’ry ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.”
The feeling of being anointed was profound. I was reminded of the weight of the burden of illness as the gentle hands of colleagues rested on my shoulders. But this weight is not unbearable; it is reassuring, comforting, infused with prayers and goodwill. As the priest approached, anointed the forehead and outstretched arms, I could feel the release of the weight when colleagues gently removed their hands. It is a powerful and external reminder of the healing that has happened within. In a true spirit of a gathering of healers, a people called to the ministry of healing, no one was left untouched.
Austine Duru, BCC, is director of mission and pastoral care at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center & Nebraska Heart Hospital in Lincoln, NE.