By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
When people in Glens Falls, New York, seek relief from a physical ailment, some meet with a healer who does not take health insurance or cash. Prayer is the only currency required.
Since February, the Rev. Bruce Mason has been helping people take their pain to God through Healing Spring Christian Ministries. Those yearning to be healed of anything from depression to cancer trust Mason and his ecumenical team to lead the way inside a rented commercial space downtown.
Twice a month on Wednesday nights, as many as eight guests who have made reservations are escorted to partitioned prayer booths, where a Bible, candle, and anointing oil serve as tools of the trade for prayer assistants.
“We’re trying to simply do what Jesus did,” Mason said. “What we’re doing when the prayer recipient comes in is adding our faith to theirs. We are extending to them the love of Jesus by our presence and our prayers. And there’s power in that.”
It’s not a typical ministry for a priest of the Diocese of Albany. But it’s consistent with a long tradition in Christianity, including strains of Anglicanism in which divine healing is expected to occur among the faithful. Scholars see signs of mainline renewal at work in Mason’s quiet corner of upstate New York, where paper mills no longer churn but faith is alive and well.
“When a mainline tradition experiences a charismatic renewal, almost always healing is an aspect of that,” said Kenneth Archer, president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and professor of Christian studies at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. “There will be an emphasis on praying for the sick and expecting healing.”
Mason, 43, said he believes in spiritual healing because it’s scriptural – and he has experienced it. From birth, he lived with extreme food allergies that made a balanced, nutritious diet virtually impossible. As an adult, his allergies worsened to the point that he could hardly eat anything and dropped to 100 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame.
A cradle Episcopalian, Mason had not grown up witnessing faith healings, but medical treatments were not working and he was willing to try another approach. He asked a couple at church to pray for him and, to his surprise, they did not mention his allergies. They focused instead on what was ailing his soul. He had been adopted as a child and still felt the pain of rejection as one who had been given up. The couple prayed for healing of those emotional wounds. Physical healing, they trusted, might follow. He decided it was worth a try.
“I finally gave everything over to God,” Mason recalled. “I just decided to trust him with every meal and every moment of my day. I would get up in the morning, stand in my kitchen, and ask Jesus what he wanted me to eat for that day. And honestly, God would speak to me. He would say, ‘Eat a little of this. Eat a little of that.’”
He says God showed him which foods to take until he soon ate a full, normal breakfast. Since then, he has been able to eat everything and has regained his 30 pounds of lost weight. “From that moment forward, all of my allergies and my entire physical condition were gone,” Mason said. “At the same time, my wife was healed of her allergies. And we were able to conceive our first child at that time of healing as well.”
Mason’s experience led to a calling to plant a ministry not in a church but in a downtown location where people already live and work.
In the Glens Falls area, Healing Spring has struck a chord. Appointments are sometimes booked four months out. Since 2012, about 90 volunteers from an ecumenical group of local congregations have gone through Mason’s training in how to pray for healing and discern where the Holy Spirit is moving. Area churches have supported the work, which relies on donations and charges no fees for those who want healing.
Observers have some theories on why, in an age of biotechnological breakthroughs and advanced medical therapies, people suffering from fibromyalgia, diabetes, and other conditions seek divine healing with help from a priest and his team.
One explanation holds that in our time Americans are recognizing the limits of standard medicine and are testing alternatives. Just as vitamins, herbs, organic foods, and natural therapies are used by people who want more than drugs and surgery can offer, some are also willing to try prayer and give their lives over to God.
“Medical science is great and miracle drugs can work, but they’re not the complete answer,” said Jim Keating, one of Mason’s trained prayer ministers. “The antidepressant designer drugs are not making people happy. … People are open to trying new and different things. And divine healing may be one of the things they’ll look into.”
Scholars agree. They see Americans experimenting with options from acupuncture to aromatherapy. Healing Spring marks another example in that same vein, according to Peter Althouse, a professor of religion at Southeastern University, where he studies spiritual healing practices. “It’s indicative of this contemporary cultural quest for alternative forms of healing that address issues that can’t be or haven’t been addressed by medical practices,” Althouse said.
Mason is quick to point out that he’s not promulgating prayer as a substitute for medical treatments, but rather as a complement to them. Nor is he trying to supplant Anglican tradition. He’s tapping into strains in Anglicanism that see healing as part-and-parcel to the work of the Church and use, for instance, liturgies that pray specifically for healing.
“It’s within the mystical tradition within Anglicanism,” Althouse said. “There is definitely a tradition from which they draw to develop these kinds of things. It’s much more pastoral and ritual in its orientation than in classical Pentecostal services, which tend to be more revivalist.”
Like other healing movements in Christianity, Healing Spring derives sanction and guidance from James 5:14-15: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”
Healing Spring is not a Pentecostal ministry, Mason said, and outside observers agree it does not bear quintessential marks of Pentecostalism. One big difference: there is no glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, at Healing Spring.
What’s more, its nature is more quietly therapeutic than grand spectacle. The initial focus is on emotional healing that can be a precursor to physical healing, especially if the ailment has a psychosomatic aspect to it, such as a peptic ulcer that’s linked to anxiety. The hope is for conversion of the heart to occur first. In some cases and by God’s grace, healing of the body will follow.
Practitioners say God is healing souls, and sometimes bodies, as the people pray. God is doing so in spite of TV evangelists who have given the practice a bad name, according to the Rev. Nigel Mumford, a retired British Royal Marine who has written three books on spiritual healing and has been a mentor to Rev. Mason.
“Jesus just did it very quietly, very gently,” said Mumford, priest associate at Galilee Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and former leader of a healing ministry at the Diocese of Albany’s Christ the King Spiritual Life Center. “That’s what Bruce is doing and that’s what I’m doing. Or more to the point, that’s what God is doing through us.”
Healing Spring has seen people getting healed, Mason said, starting within as they have discovered freedom from emotional wounds. Such progress is not easy to quantify, he said, but it’s nonetheless encouraging.
“We have had people call us and say, ‘You know what? I don’t need any more appointments right now because I’m feeling great,’” Mason said. “That’s very exciting.”
This article was first published in the September 21, 2014 issue of The Living Church.