I was supposed to go in today to participate in the healing service; I overslept, completely ignoring or disabling my alarm, and finally woke up at 10:45 (service started at 10am) with a nasty sore throat.
Ugh. The irony is scratchy and makes me think of coughing.
So I'll explain what a healing service is, but I put this behind a cut tag so that you don't have to read my long-winded blather.
I'm a member of the healing team at my church. This means that approximately once a month, during the regular 10am Sunday service -- and the two Sunday services always include the Eucharist -- we have a priest and at least one layperson stationed at a small table off to one side (south transept, in this case) so that after people take communion they can come over for prayer for specific healing needs. They tell us their need for prayer and healing, we pray for them, the priest frequently anoints with blessed oil.
All this is intensely personal and absolutely confidential -- that is, nothing will be discussed in any way that identifies the person who is prayed for and who or what they ask for prayer about. Essential in a gossip-prone place like a church. The exceptions are when the person asks for additional help or referral, and when the person has revealed something that discloses that someone is in real danger of injury or death should it go undisclosed. (That's also a legal liability. As a layman I am not protected from prosecution should I be ordered to disclose information that was learned at the healing table, and tried to refuse on the grounds of confidential information.)
Any baptized Christian can, in theory, serve others in this way, but in practice it's better to have people who have demonstrated that they know how to pray extemporaneously and to the point, who have been trained in the rules of confidentiality and when it must be kept and the very rare case where it must be broken, and who have shown that they will uphold that pledge of confidentiality.
There is actually some theological study that supports this practice. The earliest churches would pray for healing after the common meal, after the ritual of bread and wine; it's because the ritual itself is supposed to restore our awareness and grounding in the forgiveness and healing that comes from God through the sacrificial and redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus.
Some Sundays, about three times a year, we have a more general healing service. As I said, normally during our 10am service, we offer the chance for healing prayer following communion.
At a Healing Service, however, everyone is invited to come up for specific prayers for healing for themselves or for others. It's like the eucharist or the foot-washing on Maundy Thursday or the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday; almost everyone comes up, because almost everyone has some need for healing.
I personally wish they'd change the format a little. Marching up twice disrupts the flow of the service. I would like to see them offer communion at four stations around the altar, then allowing people to move directly to a healing-prayer station or to return to their seat in the sanctuary. This is probably a little too complicated though.
A digression into the way that the layout of a church can affect the feel of the church service, with a quick side-digression into the architecture of churches.
At Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Beaverton, Oregon, we have a slightly unusual layout. The church building was constructed in two major phases. First, the original building, a classic rectangular building with a half-basement.
The downstairs part holds classrooms, a restroom, the furnace/air conditioner, and a small kitchen which I believe was the original kitchen. The upstairs has an entrance area, a large room which was the original sanctuary, a library, some offices which were the original office and sacristy (where the utensils and equipment are kept and where the priest and assistants dress.) The original sanctuary is now the Fellowship Hall, and has been named Kingsley Hall in honor of the first priest at St. Barts.
The "newer" section is a very large, cross-shaped section, attached to the older section by a hallway with offices, which I believe was actually part of the original building.
You can see a traditional church layout as described by the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Renovation Project in Westminster Colorado, here: http://2008remodel.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/layout.gif
It's a bit different from how we have things at St. Barts but it's a great source for the names of the sections.
There is an entrance area (the Narthex) where the baptismal font is normally kept, and where people enter the church for services.
We have a stained-glass window in front of a slightly raised platform where the font is kept. It's remarkably beautiful.
Beyond the Narthex to the east is the Sanctuary - the Nave, Transepts, and so on. It's called that because in the past, the traditional arched structure looked like the ribs inside an upside-down boat, and I've been told, shipwrights used to be called on to design churches.
The "crossing" is, in many churches, a rather odd and somewhat confusing space. At St. Bart's we have a raised platform, two levels done in oak, with a large stone/concrete altar in the center. It's a big square thing with big candles on the transept sides. Hanging suspended from cables above it is a huge cross.
The first level of the raised altar is lined with padded cushions on three sides. Used to be four sides but one of our rectors - that's the senior priest - did some fiddling with the layout and flow, and figured out that leaving those two rails on the sanctuary-side did very good things for the feeling of open-ness and accessibility to the Altar, as well as making some of the movement during services much easier.
The north and south transepts are normally not used in a regular service, unless we've got a LOT of people; the south transept is where we place the healing table, which is a small kneeling-bench of a particular kind that seems to be found only in churches and chapels.
Our choir normally sits either in the north transept or in the Apse, and the organ controls (keyboard etc) are in the front of the Apse. Beyond that, we have our current Sacristy.
Gospel side vs. Epistle side -- that's rather crusty with tradition.
At every service, there are by very long tradition scripture readings. First, one or two readings from the Old or New Testament (typically when possible an OT passage then a passage from one of the Epistles.) Then, a Psalm is read or sung, generally by the congregation. Then, a reading from one of the Gospels is given. In the Episcopal church we follow a three-year alternating schedule such that every part of the Bible is read during that cycle. Note that this schedule includes morning and evening prayer services, which are not as widely observed as they used to be.
The Gospel was usually read by a deacon standing on one side of the church, the Epistle by a priest, acolyte, or lay reader, standing on the other side.
At St. Bart's, the deacon takes the Display Bible (that's my word for it - it is, I think, a book with just the Gospels but it might be a complete bible, which has been inserted into a truly overdone ornate gold-plated cover. Ornate. Very Ornate) and moves to the front and partly into the Nave, facing the Narthex. The doors to the Narthex are open because, symbolically, they are preaching the Gospel to the world. (In fact, they are preaching it to the people in the building, but, symbolism.)
Traditionally the church was laid out with the length running east-west, and the Altar would be on the east side, though that isn't really terribly important.
Many churches use a "tau" cross shape - that is, they don't have an 'apse' behind the crossing.
Anyway. Because we have our altar in the crossing, rather than further away, the focus of worship becomes the altar rather than the choir or the priest or the sermon. Because the Altar can make things hard to see, we also have a "bully pulpit" that hardly ever gets used except for High Holy Days, specifically, Easter and Christmas Eve: a narrow, somewhat scary stair goes along the south wall of the apse, to a platform with a pulpit located about 15 feet off the ground and thus visible over the altar from every part of the sanctuary. It has its own lighting and sound.
Our previous rector was very much into icons as meditational assists for worship. We now have several icons that were written in the traditional way (icons are written, not drawn or painted, even if the techniques used are those of drawing and painting) and there is an Icon of St. Bartholomew usually in place on an easel (or is it stand? There's probably a name for the thing but I can't find it.)
And thus endeth the digression.