It was deja vu all over again for the Forest Park Ministerium at the Ecumenical Healing Service held at St. Bernardine Catholic Church on July 23. Including the choir and the clergy, only 20 people showed up.
The same thing happened at the Community Thanksgiving Eve service last November. In both cases, bad weather could be blamed, at least in part. The Thanksgiving service happened in the middle of a blizzard, while the temperature when the healing service began was in the mid-nineties.
The small turnout, however, did not deter the clergy from giving the people in the pews their best. Father Pat Tucker, who hosted the service, had prepared a simple liturgy with Bible readings about healing. After the readings and a sermon, the pastors prayed, individually, for those who came forward and anointed them with oil.
Rev. Cliff DiMascio’s meditation included much of his own experience. He told about the emotional/spiritual roller coaster he and his wife Susan rode when she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago.
DiMascio also shared the story of his own experience of being healed: how as a young man he was into drugs and going nowhere and how God used certain key people to bring major changes to his life. “God uses ordinary people,” he said, “to do extraordinary things.” He said that there are different kinds of healing-physical, emotional andspiritual-and that when we pray, what we are doing is opening ourselves up to some kind of change. What kind of healing the Spirit gives is up to God.
Pastor Tony Davidson offered prayers for healing for those who were not present, asked God to bless the worship that would happen in all of Forest Park’s churches the next day and prayed that this small beginning would grow into an event that would bless many more people.
That, however, was the question that the pastors struggled to answer after the service: Why was the beginning so small? Davidson was
hopeful about the future. “Maybe if we offered this kind of service more often, say four times a year, people would learn about it and it would gradually grow.”
Despite Pastor Davidson’s optimism, the clergy agreed that Communication and advertising could have been better. For example, Dave Goetz, who isthe co-chair of the Relay for Life coming up next week, is the man who gave the idea of having a service of healing to the Ministerium in the first place. When Goetz was called about why none of the Relay for Life participants were present at the service, he responded that he was never notified as to when the service was going to be held.
In the Ministerium’s defense, there was a news brief about the healing service in the July 6 edition of the Review and announcements were made in some churches. Clearly, however, that was not enough to get themessage out.
“People are busy,” commented Goetz, “and many are onvacation. It isn’t a good time of the year, and one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon isn’t a real good time.”
In addition to publicity and people’s busy schedules being factors, the pastors recognized that attendance at, for example, the community Thanksgiving service had gradually declined to the point that it did not even happen in 2003. Pastor DiMascio remembered how the event used to be held at either St. John or St. Bernardine. Those were the only two churches in Forest Park big enough to hold the several hundred people who would come.
He noted that the one exception to the decline in communityparticipation was in the weeks following 9/11. St. John was filled with worshipers at a community service held there in the week following the terrorist attack and a memorial event at the Park one the firstanniversary drew a big crowd as well. For some reason, those events were attractive to the community.
“I wonder,” said DiMascio, “if sometimes our churches in the community aren’t in rhythm with our culture.”
Pastor DiMascio speculated that the clergy, himself included, are sometimes not meeting people’s needs “head on.” Twenty years ago, being together was the thing that drew a crowd to a community service.
Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and members of the United Church of Christ experienced an ecumenical service as a big deal, a break through. That was the need that was being met. Just being together, apparently, is no longer a burning need. At least not”burning” enough to bring people out in a snow storm or “cool” enough to motivate them to venture out in ninety degree heat!