The laying on of (other) hands

Andrew Taylor-Troutman offers a glimpse into worship: how faith is passed on not with words but with actions, how we are held as we hold, how we might elevate our spirits as we tenderly reach for others.

Our church recently had a laying on of hands, the ancient rite we still use to ordain and recognize leaders. I asked the elders and deacons to come to the baptismal font, and as they walked forward, I invited the rest of the congregation to raise their open palms from their seats. Not everyone is ordained, yet I don’t think the point of this ritual is to make others feel left out.

After we laid hands on the person, I prayed, and truth be told, I went on for a good bit. (Have you seen these lengthy ordination prayers in the Book of Common Worship?) The passage of time was not too difficult for those standing immediately around me, for their hands rested on someone else. But it was tiring for folks in the congregation who were holding their arms in the air!

I know this because my father was seated next to my 8-year-old son. They enthusiastically lifted their hands at my invitation, but as I prayed (and prayed and prayed), my son lowered his arm onto my father’s, his smaller hand resting on Dad’s larger one. The laying on of hands is obviously about the power of touch, but here was something else …

Something about how faith is passed on not with words but with actions. Something about how we are supported as we support and held as we hold. Something about how we might elevate our spirits as we tenderly reach for others.

I was moved while praying that prayer as the rite is meaningful to me. And it moves me further still to know that others were having other holy moments, for the laying on of hands is about a power beyond my ken. Just think of the sacred touches outside my knowledge each and every Sunday! It is enough to make my heart whap against my ribs in riotous joy! And I’m not the only one.

Dad, who has served as a pastor for more than 40 years, told me that he will remember that moment with his grandson for as long as he lives. Imagine that someone who has stood and presided over many a ceremony has his heart soar like a heron in the back of the church, almost in private. I give that moment to you, gentle reader, the two of them in the back corner of the sanctuary, one hand laying on top of the other, as all that needs to be said.

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