Ask Ambrose: Resources for Ministry with the Sick and Dying

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Q: As a parish priest who is a frequent visitor to the hospital, dealing with both the sick and the dying, I’m wondering what resources are available for both praying with those to whom I minister, as well as with their families. The Book of Common Prayer has a number of prayers for the sick and dying, but they do not include specific prayers for some of the situations I have encountered in ministry. Can you please help? 

A: This is an excellent question. Much has changed in the realm of healing and medicine since I served in Milan, but you will be happy to know that the Episcopal Church offers some great resources that will undoubtedly be of benefit to you. In addition to the prayers for the sick and dying found within the Book of Common Prayer, I strongly recommend the numerous resources in Enriching Our Worship 2: Ministry with the Sick or Dying/Burial of a Child. The strength of this resource is that it offers a variety of prayers and forms of prayer for medical situations that were not commonplace at the time of the drafting of the Book of Common Prayer 1979. One excellent example of this is “A Form of Prayer When Life-Sustaining Treatment Is Withheld or Discontinued” (p. 117). In such difficult situations that are laden with many heavy emotions, having composed prayers can be a great aid to the priest. Although our spontaneous prayer is often meaningful to those on the other end of our ministering, sometimes words fail us in the most traumatic and sorrowful of occasions. On these occasions, the thoughtful wisdom of those who have gathered in community in the Church for the purpose of thinking theologically and prayerfully about difficult situations is of the greatest benefit.

Some particular prayers to note within Enriching Our Worship 2 include ones “For a Miscarriage,” “For a Stillbirth or Child Who Dies Soon after Birth,” “For a Child Dead by Suicide,” “For Health Care Providers,” “For Relatives of an Organ Donor,” and “For Companions to Those Who Are Chronically Ill.” You will also want to look at the opening section on “Praying with the Sick” (pp. 13-17), as it provides an exquisite theological account of the great privilege to minister with those who are in the midst of suffering or on the margins of life.