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Healing services now touch many

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up. . . .

_ James 5:14-15

The sanctuary is quiet. Some people pray silently, while others gaze toward the altar. Soon the litany begins, with the proper responses given at the designated times. It is soon time to leave the comfort of the pew and kneel at the altar for the laying on of hands.

The celebrant and assistant perform the service together and pray before the receivers return to their seats.

Organ music plays softly while an offering is taken. This is followed by closing prayers, the celebrant's blessing and the assistant's dismissal.

Though this formal style of service seems similar to others in the Episcopal church, one thing is different. The people are here to be healed.

Once associated mainly with televangelists, healing services have caught on with mainline denominations, including those in Hernando County.

Some churches offer healing prayers during the Sunday worship services, while others offer them weekly or monthly.

Why have such services become popular?

"It's hard to explain," said Dolores Sellars, a member of First United Methodist Church in Spring Hill. "It's a wonderful time to be together with the group and pray for people who have requested that service."

Sellars said it is a special time when a person feels close to the Lord. She said she doesn't go to pray for herself. "Most people go to pray for someone they know personally."

One expert says the popularity of healing services among mainline churches is a trend that began within the past 50 years. Previously, such services were considered weird and unnatural.

"Although the Episcopal Church with its Book of Common Prayer began praying for those who were ill many years ago, prayers for healing fell into disuse" because of the sideshow atmosphere of healing events, said Charles Lippy, a professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Lippy attributes the increasing acceptance of healing services to a renewed understanding that religious faith and physical health are interrelated.

"Many churches are offering services with some kind of prayer, which is different from walking forward and being healed instantly," he said.

Brooksville Assembly of God offers a special healing service once a month. The Rev. David Garcia said that, although he believes in traditional medicine, he wants to give Jesus a chance to heal people.

Garcia asks his members to urge people who are ill to attend the service and trust God to heal. Healing services are held the third Sunday of each month and usually draw about 300 people.

Barbara Albritton, a 53-year-old native Floridian, said she had been in and out of hospitals for more than a year with heart problems. In January her blood pressure dropped to a dangerously low 56/47, and she almost died.

"Everyone at church was praying for me, and God lifted me up . . . and my doctor now says my heart is perfect with no abnormalities," said Albritton, a member of Assembly of God for 2{ years. "It was definitely God's doing. God healed me and healed my heart."

Healing services are held at First United Methodist Church in Spring Hill on Thursdays at 11 a.m.

"That's a time when we come together, sing, find out about special prayer needs," said the Rev. Gary Edwards, assistant pastor.

Edwards said people with special needs kneel at the altar, where others lay their hands on them and pray.

Healing services were one of the reasons Dolores Sellars joined First United Methodist when she moved to Spring Hill 11 years ago.

"There is nothing weird about it," said Sellars. "It's very normal and part of a religious tradition."

Sellars reminisced about spinal problems she had for many years. About seven or eight years ago, while sitting in a pew during a healing service, she said, she "felt as if someone turned the key and rotated the vertebrae causing the trouble, and the pain was gone."

Sellars said to herself, "Wow," went up to the altar to participate in the balance of the service and has been without pain since. "The Lord healed me," she said.

Although Sellars survived a bout with breast cancer eight years ago, she now has liver cancer. Will her beliefs in God's healing powers be diminished if she is ultimately not cured?

"Oh, he'll heal me all right, even if it means just bringing me home," Sellars said.

The Rev. Edward Grimes has been an Episcopal priest for 22 years. His mission has always been to work with the elderly and the sick. "I wanted a hands-on ministry," Grimes said. He believes the healing ministry gets him closer to Christ and back to the complete Christian church because it is interdenominational.

The allure of the healing ministry is the desire to get closer to Jesus and feel his presence, Grimes said.

"It works, it really does; I've seen miracles happen," said Grimes, who conducts healing services at 11 a.m. each Wednesday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Spring Hill.

The important thing to remember, Grimes said, is "there is only one healer and that is our Lord, Jesus Christ. . . . I am only the conduit."

Grimes said, "If it gets to the point where the person dies, let's face it, death is a healing and the ultimate healing is, "Child come home.' "

Grimes reminds people of when Jesus laid his hands on a blind man and asked him if he could see. The man said, "I think I see men but they look like trees and they're not clear." After Christ touched the man a second time, the man regained his sight completely.

"If it took Jesus two tries," said Grimes, "my answer to clergy who doubt the power of prayer is, "Who am I to question 70 times seven?' "

"Healing is a right we have," said Grimes, "because God gave it to us in the commission of his son that we should heal the sick."

_ Times researcher Carolyn Hardnett contributed to this report.

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