In the 80s that changed for many of our churches. In the 80s the Churches of Christ discovered the Holy Spirit and our world became a little bit more enchanted, charismatic and pentecostal. We've slowly awakened to the affective, intuitive and embodied aspects of Christian life, spirituality and worship. We're a little bit more mystical, a little bit more open to being surprised by God and led by the winds of the Spirit.
But just a little bit more. We're still a pretty tame and inhibited group.
But not so much at our local church plant Freedom Fellowship. Though a church plant sponsored by the Highland Church of Christ, Freedom Fellowship is a lot more charismatic and pentecostal. Freedom doesn't feel anything like a Church of Christ.
Freedom has an indigenous spirituality unlike anything I've experienced in the Churches of Christ. I think this is due to the fact that a lot of the people Freedom attracts--the poor and homeless--have been shaped by charismatic and pentecostal traditions, and they have imported that spirituality into the congregation. And that the poor and disenfranchised in our town are more charismatic isn't too surprising given how charismatic traditions tend to flourish in these social locations worldwide.
One of the distinctive aspects of the spirituality that has emerged at Freedom is anointing with oil. I'm not sure how typical anointing with oil is among charismatic and pentecostal churches. I do know you see anointing with oil liturgically practiced in some mainline traditions. But at Freedom the practice is more spontaneous than liturgical. So I don't know how to norm what we do at Freedom against other traditions who anoint with oil.
At Freedom we anoint with oil very regularly. If someone prays over you, and this happens a lot, very often they will anoint your head with oil before they pray. Brothers and sisters at Freedom carry oil around with them so that, if anyone needs prayer, oil is always on hand for that purpose. When I go to Freedom I grab two things, my bible and a small bottle of anointing oil. You never know when you or someone else might need it.
The first time I was ever anointed with oil, as I've written about before, was then I was at church early having driven the van bringing people to the dinner we have before every service. I was coming down with a fever and I was shaking pretty badly. Mary came up to me to see if I was okay and I told her I was coming down with a fever. Mary prayed for me and before she did, as we do a lot at Freedom, she anointed my head with oil making the sign of the cross, "In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
I'd say I was pretty well hooked at that moment. Maybe it was the fever, but I became all in with the oil thing. And reading authors like Sara Miles has helped deepen my appreciation of the practice.
Listen, I can understand any reservations you might be having about this practice. I get it. It's all a little weird and strange. Especially if you're a cerebral, skeptical sort like I am. But I love the anointing with oil culture at Freedom. I'm not sure how common or strange our practices are, but what we do fits our culture and our people.
Why am I so taken with this practice?
I think we need rituals to signify holy ground. I think we need practices of consecration and hallowing. I think we need to feel a loving touch on our face. I think we need to pray with our hands. I think we need to be marked to remember who we are. I think we need to experience grace in the tingle on the skin and the smell of incense on our foreheads. I think we need liturgies where we stand before each other, eye to eye, because very rarely at church do we stand so close. Rarely have I anointed anyone without crying. And I think we need to look at each other and cry a little bit more at the beauty of it all.
You might not anoint with oil where you worship. And introducing the practice into your world might be a little too weird.
But there is a wisdom here. A way of seeing each other. A way of praying. A way of loving.
Explore it if you can.