Seeking Healing During Difficult Times
The progressive movement in the United Methodist Church has been reeling this week from two blows to the inclusion of LGBT people. A week ago, the Council of Bishops, our highest executive body, requested that a complaint be filed against Bishop Melvin Talbert for conducting a same-sex wedding. Early this week, a jury in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference convicted Rev. Frank Schaefer for performing the wedding of his gay son, and gave him thirty days before asking him to give up his orders. For many of us, these were upsetting developments. But they are also reminders that our clergy and our churches are ministering to LGBT people in spite of the church’s official discrimination. In fact, many United Methodist churches, including ours, have been ministering faithfully to LGBT for a very long time. To highlight this truth about our United Methodist Church, and in recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1, we asked a former pastor of one of our fo unding churches, the Rev. Taka Ishii, to describe his ministry to the LGBT community during the AIDS crisis in New York City.
I was appointed to Metropolitan-Duane UMC, one of the predecessor congregations of the Church of the Village, in 1986. Because of the mission of the congregation for inclusion and the location of the congregation, the church was heavily involved in ministry with persons with AIDS. One of the active members of the church was one of the founding members of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).
Within months of the beginning of my ministry at the church, I was overwhelmed by requests for memorial services. I officiated at seven memorial services in one week. Some were small services, which were attended by only few people. No family members attended. Some were so large that the church was packed with family members and friends: this was the case for Sam Alford, who was an active and beloved member of the congregation. One service, which I conducted, was also large, but the members of the deceased’s family, and the members of the grieving partner’s family never talked with each other and sat separately during the service, but the friends of deceased person and the friends of his partner made the memorial service a wonderful celebration of life for the deceased person and his family members. Under these circumstances, we looked for HEALING; healing for persons with AIDS, healing for family members and friends, and healing for ourselves.
My colleague, a retired pastor, Rev. Hal Vink, was having a healing service on Wednesday night at his church on Long Island. With his advice, I started a service at Metropolitan-Duane. Shortly before beginning our healing services, I preached on the subject of healing. I asked my lay leader to come forward when the act of anointing began, because I was afraid that no one would come forward for the anointing. To my surprise, people kept coming and coming. At the end, the majority of the congregation came forward for anointing. Some whispered to me very personal healing requests.
Some months later, at a Church Council meeting, several members asked me why I did not continue the healing service. I was overwhelmed with the positive response of the Council members: “We should have a monthly healing service, just like we have a Communion service monthly.” This was the beginning of the healing service at Metropolitan-Duane. I understand that the Church of the Village continues this tradition even today.
From the earliest years of the AIDS Crisis, the Metropolitan-Duane and Washington Square United Methodist Churches have been involved in AIDS ministry, so it is natural for the Church of the Village to continue the healing service for whomever needs healing in today’s world.
Jesus healed many, and told his disciples to go out to do the same. May we also do the same!!!
Rev Taka Ishii previously served as the Pastor of Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church, one of the three churches which merged to form the Church of the Village.
Please join us at Church of the Village during our Advent season where we will recognize World AIDS Day on December 1st. We will also have Healing Prayer offered during the December 15th Blue Christmas service where we will recognize the pain in our lives in the midst of this happy season.