Come On In for Healing PrayerImagine you notice what looks like a new walk-in clinic. There’s a sign that reads “Healing prayer available. All are welcome.” It’s a reality in more than 35 Canadian cities.
The topic of healing is a sceptic’s playground. There are so many unknowns. While some people pray once and become symptom-free, others might petition God faithfully in Jesus’ name for years without seeing the results for which they desperately yearn.
In the past decade Christians from diverse denominations have forged a new trend in this area of ministry: healing rooms, spaces set aside with the express purpose of inviting people from all walks of life to be prayed over and to experience God’s mercy in a physical way.
Healing rooms are frequently set up similarly to walk-in medical clinics, with a waiting area, reception desk and a private room for each individual prayer session. While some of the facilities are held in churches, many operate from storefronts.
Storefront healing rooms often advertise with sandwich boards on the sidewalk and typically open one or two nights a week. Some are in strip malls while others, like the facility just outside Ottawa in Orleans, Ontario, are on the main street.
Gerry Richards, a pastor at New Wine Covenant Church, was one of the team members who helped get the Orleans room going in September 2003. Richards says three or four people visit the healing room on a typical Monday night.
“We’ve had more than 500 visits total and we’ve only missed about three [Monday nights] because Christmas or New Year’s fell on that date,” he says.
While the concept of a public space dedicated to healing has few detractors, there is disagreement about how to understand the connections between sin, disease and healing. Most Christians agree God can heal sickness today. But some who believe God uses natural biological processes have little patience for those who seem to ignore or reject medical understandings of health problems – their diagnoses, causes and treatments – in favour of calling on supernatural intervention alone. Yet despite this theological difference, public spaces dedicated to healing have remained free of major controversy.
According to Healing Rooms Ministries (www.healingrooms.com) there are 535 healing rooms worldwide, with large concentrations in North America and Europe.
In Canada there are 35 such rooms, with British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario hosting the majority.
Testimonials from the rooms cover a broad spectrum from mundane backaches and headaches disappearing to the incredible: cancers seemingly taken from the body, cataracts instantly removed. Some are simply bizarre, such as claims of lost organs and limbs being restored.
Nonetheless, those involved know well that God’s healing touch can be unique to each individual. While one person may be healed almost instantly, there are many who come for healing prayer regularly over an extended period of time.
“We leave the results up to God. There’s a mystery to how His part works,” says Jerry Steingard, director of a storefront healing room in Barrie, Ontario, and pastor of Gateway Harvest Fellowship.
More often than not Steingard and his cohorts see “progressive healings” where people overcome an illness or condition after successive prayer sessions, where they become, as Steingard puts it, “Soaked in prayer.”
“We have a sensitive and responsible prayer style. There’s no hype and it’s non-invasive,” he says. The concept is to keep it simple.
“Our part is so minute,” echoes Tiny Marais, a transplanted South African who has worked with healing rooms in the Vancouver area for the past five years. “We’re waiting on God – that’s all we do.”
Among those “waiting” are teams of intercessors behind the scenes who pray for each individual and for those ministering in the healing rooms. Then of course there are the front-line teams themselves that meet with the people seeking healing, often laying hands on them in prayer.
Members of both these teams – intercessors and those in front-line ministry – must first undergo training that includes discussion on the appropriate way to lay hands on someone. Training also covers the importance of always being respectful and acting in a way that will not make the person being prayed for feel uncomfortable.
Every healing room in this movement must be multi-denominational, ideally having support from very diverse members of the local Christian community. While there’s no arguing that healing rooms usually come to communities through the initiative of charismatic believers, denominational lines are blurred in this ministry as Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, and Christian and Missionary Alliance members (to name a few) work together.
It should also be noted that members of healing room teams come as individuals without being officially endorsed by their churches. In Barrie, for instance, volunteers come from about 11 area churches.
“In its DNA [a healing room is] to be an interchurch ministry,” says Steingard.
Before a healing room is brought into an area, the group hoping to open it must spend an extended time in prayer. Richards says his group got together once a week for six months before they opened the room in Orleans.
Unlike some other faith-based movements, there is no dispute over who first began healing rooms. Originally from Ontario, but best known for his work in the United States and South Africa, businessman and evangelist John G. Lake opened the first healing room in Spokane, Washington, in the late 1800s.
Lake had seen a great deal of sickness and death while growing up and the spectre of life’s frailties had a profound effect on him. When his wife developed a life-threatening illness he took her to see John Alexander Dowie, a faith healer who prayed over her and allegedly saw her healed. The impact of that event led Lake into the ministry of healing.
In charismatic circles it is believed Lake was involved in thousands of healings worldwide and, during his time in Spokane, the city was declared the “healthiest city in America” by the U.S. government (though it is difficult to verify this commonly told story).
Those interviewed by Faith Today spoke reverently of Lake and the fruits of his ministry but they stopped short of ascribing any special abilities or powers to him.
“There have been many healers – God’s generals,” says Marais. “But this ministry is not based on a name; it is based solely on what the Holy Spirit is doing.”
Growth since 1999
Pastor Cal Pierce, a former California real estate developer, did much to restart the healing room movement in recent memory. Pierce says he felt called by God to move to Spokane and essentially start from where Lake left off, saying God wanted him to “re-dig the generational wells of healing” in that city.
In 1999 Pierce fasted and prayed for 40 days, eventually coming to the understanding that he should open a healing room at the same site where Lake began his healing ministry. Though the original building was no longer there, Healing Rooms International started at essentially the same site.
One of the more controversial elements of Pierce’s story is that he was in the habit of praying at Lake’s gravesite. Though this is unsettling for some, he maintains he was simply trying to “make a connection to the vision and historical work that took place in Spokane with healing rooms” and that God made it clear to him the ministry was going to be based on the Holy Spirit, not on any one person.
While the Lake-Pierce tradition of healing rooms is vibrant today, it must also be noted that there are other well-established healing movements at work in the Canadian Church. Perhaps the most visible example, at least in mainline churches, is the Order of St. Luke (OSL), a ministry dating from the 1930s. While the Order doesn’t follow the same modus operandi as Healing Rooms International, it certainly shares the same passion and belief in divine intervention. OSL advertises a 24-hour prayer line and publishes Sharing, its own magazine dedicated to the topic of healing.
One of the busiest healing rooms in the country is, not surprisingly, at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, one of Canada’s most influential churches on the charismatic side of Christianity. The multi-site congregation, founded in 1986 and known for the “Father’s Blessing” that began there in 1994, is an affiliate of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
They see an average of 50 people a week coming through the doors, says pastor Steve Long. And though roughly half of those people attend the church, many Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists from the very multicultural community surrounding the church also seek healing there.
“If you get a really good healing within someone from these groups they will bring 15 to 20 people with them the next week,” he says.
The church also mobilizes its healing room by offering a version of the ministry at psychic fairs and other spiritually focused events. In April it won an award for having the busiest booth at a holistic living expo.
Those active in the healing room movement see a huge interest among non-churchgoers in healing. Among churchgoers, ironically, there seems to be less interest – not to mention more sceptical attitudes.
Yet according to Long, many people come to faith in Christ after they have experienced something miraculous in their lives.
“We try to discern from them in they are followers of Jesus. If not, we explain that it was Jesus who healed them and that He can do many other things in their lives too.”
Jeff Dewsbury is a freelance writer in Langley, British Columbia.
Originally published in Faith Today, September/October 2007.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.