A Healing Guild for America: the Order of St. Luke:
In 1920 four Episcopal priests, among them the Revs. Henry B. Wilson and John Gaynor Banks, organized an branch of the English Society of the Nazarene. The Society’s first Warden (director) was the Rev. Henry B. Wilson, rector of St. John’s Church in Boonton, New Jersey. He published five books on healing and was the editor of The Nazarene, the society’s healing journal.
The Rev. Wilson books on healing introduced the American public to the works of Dearmer and Puller. But he also produced an original contribution to the theology of healing in a book entitled Ghosts or Gospels. In it he strongly distinguished Christian healing from spiritualist healings and spirit manifestations. This warning may seem obvious to readers today, but at the time this was a necessary reminder. In the 1900s people who believed in healing were so few that it was not unheard of for Christians in the healing ministry to fellowship with Spiritualists – both groups held in common a belief in the present reality of spiritual phenomenon, unlike cessationist Christians. Much harm and confusion resulted in this, and it played right into the hands of the cessationist critics who believed that there was no distinction between Christian and spiritualist healing power.
Wilson did not fully organize the Society of the Nazarene before his untimely death in 1929. The Rev. John Gayner Banks, one of the four founders of the Society in 1920, attempted to continue the society, but could not get Wilson’s widow’s permission to continue the society, or even use its name. Banks simple continued the Society’s work without an official name or newsletter.
John Gayner Banks was an Englishman who had been educated at the University of London, and he had been active in the English Society of the Nazarene. He came to the United States after World War I to do advanced study on the relationship between religion, psychology and healing. He met with the Rev. Wilson and was encouraged by him to seek holy orders. Banks did so, receiving his theological training at the Episcopal seminary in Swanee, Tennessee, while continuing in the healing ministry.
During a healing mission he led in La Jolla, California (1928), the Rev. Banks met Miss Ethel Tulloch, who had been headed at a local chapter of the Society of the Nazarene. They began a correspondence, and subsequently wed at Calvary Church in New York City, by the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, later famous as the co-founder of AA. The newlyweds sailed to England for their honeymoon. In England they visited the Christian healing centers and spoke with the healing leadership of that country.
They returned to the United Stated determined to reestablish an American healing guild on a permanent basis. Fr. Banks accepted the call to be rector of St. Luke’s Church in San Diego, and the church’s parsonage became the headquarters of an unofficial Christian healing network (1930). A mimeographed newsletter was begun to spread healing information. This was named Sharing, which continues as a magazine to this day. The newsletter went out to the people in St. Luke’s parish and others interested in healing throughout the United States. The subscribers came to be known as the “Fellowship of St. Luke,” and though most members were Episcopalian, some were from other denominations. The Fellowship of St. Luke grew steadily and by 1936 was recognized as the official healing organization of the Episcopal Church. Unlike the Society of the Nazarene, it was open to Christians from all denominations.
Ethel Tulloch Banks: Healing Theologian:
Interestingly, the principal writer and theologian of the “Order of St. Luke the Physician” was Ethel, who did most of the writing and editing of Sharing. She was the one who had the time and energy to read the latest publications on healing while her husband was mostly engaged with his pastoral duties. Although she published some works under her name, she also ghost wrote much of her husband’s later writings. It was sacrificial to do so. She understood that the Rev. John Banks’ ordination and PhD. gave him authority to speak before a church audience. In an age where women had just gained the right to vote, she would not have commanded similar authority or even a fair hearing had she put her name to her theological writings.
But in fact, the first published material produced by either of the Banks was a devotional pamphlet by Ethel entitled “Come Unto Me” (1924). The pamphlet describes Ethel’s own miraculous healing from a serious illness. While at worship in church she had a vision of Our Lord beckoning her to receive Holy Communion. When she did so the next day she was immediately healed. After that experience she had a dream which showed her how to use the Communion service as a healing service. The pamphlet guides the reader through an Episcopal communion service and shows how to use every part of it as a healing prayer.
Naturally, Fr. Banks took note of his wife’s dramatic cure as an affirmation of the Anglican sacramental theology, and the sacramental and liturgical aspects of Christian healing became central in his future publications. In 1929 he was invited to preach a sermon on healing at the Washington Cathedral. He (and Ethel) expanded his remarks into his first major book, The Redemption of the Body. The theme of the work is that the body of man is meant to be a sacrament of God, that is, a vehicle of God’s goodness and means of bringing God’s grace to others. Banks argued against the ascetical tradition of the Desert Fathers and the Middle Ages which advocated lacerations on the body in continuous penances.
These ideas were most widely broadcast in the Rev. Bank’s Manual of Christian Healing, a work which went through at least fourteen editions and which was sent to every minister and priest who joined the Order of St. Luke from the 1930 into the 1960s. In it is contained a suggested liturgy for a church healing service and advice on the use of Holy Communion as a healing service. The desire to associate healing with the ritual and liturgy of the Church was not just a theological issue. The other, unspoken agenda was to associate Christian healing prayer with the orthodox traditions of the Church and away from its association with the Mind-Cure cults and Christian Science.
The Ministry of the Rev. Alfred W. Price:
The Rev. John Banks died in 1953 as he finished a lecture at a CFO camp. (We will discuss this important para-church group in a future blog). For now we should note that there was an interlocking membership and leadership between the CFO and OSL. By the 1950s there were scores of OSL chapters established in Episcopal (and Methodist) churches throughout the country. The Rev. Alfred W. Price, also an Episcopal priest, took over as warden. Under Fr. Price the OSL spread to every state in the Union and to several foreign countries. Local chapter were mostly based at Episcopal churches, but also in Methodist churches, and other Protestant denominations (but no Catholic churches until the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s).
Alfred Price was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1899. His Episcopal pastor was “low-church” and a theological liberal and passed on those persuasions to Price. But in his teen years Price became curious about Christian Science and witnessed several healings at the hand of their practitioners. Although he quickly discerned that Christian Science theology was mumbo-jumbo, he saw it also ministered valid healings, just as the Rev Pearcy Dearmer had discerned earlier in England.
After serving in the Marine Corps in World War I, Price entered the Episcopal seminary at Cambridge, Massachusetts – affiliated with Harvard University. In his last year of study he opted to do a master’s thesis to complete his ordination degree. His topic the gospel miracles. As his research developed he saw that the miracles described in the gospels were authentically recorded events. Certainly, if Christian Science practitioner could heal the sick, it was only logical to assume the healing miracles attributed to Jesus were authentic. He presented his extensively researched thesis in 1929.
The dean of the school was aghast at the thesis and appointed a faculty committee to review what had “gone wrong” with Mr. Price’s education. The committee interviewed him and gave him an ultimatum: if he did not retract his thesis he would neither graduate nor be ordained. He responded by refusing to rewrite a single line of the thesis and told them:
“I understand this to be a liberal school with a great emphasis on intellectual integrity. I think it is my Bishop’s responsibility to decide whether or not I have a vocation for the ministry, and I think it is your responsibility to evaluate this thesis and decide whether it meets the requirements and standards of the school.”
The faculty committee reconsidered its ultimatum and Mr. Price became the Rev. Price.
The Rev. Price’s first church was St. Philips’ in Brooklyn. He spent 12 years there, all Great Depression years, which kept him active in coordinating church relief. He instituted a weekly healing service at that church, which was especially effective in praying for recovery from surgery or from infectious diseases, which in the period before antibiotics, was a major anxiety for anyone who was ill.
Fr. Price’s major contributions to the healing ministry begin in 1942 when he was transferred to St. Stephen’s church in downtown Philadelphia. It was a dying parish. The congregation had been fleeing to the suburbs and the local population was mostly made up of transients, hobos, day-time business people, and employees of the red-light district. Attendance was so low that the Vestry had considered closing the church.
As the Rev. Price prayed over the situation he felt definite direction from the Lord to go out into the neighborhood and invite everyone to church. He went to the bars, offices, restaurants, boarding houses and brothels, and without condemnation invited all to come to the church services. To Price’s surprise, both the business people and the “undesirables” began coming to his church. After several months of ministering and seeing the needs of his parishioner he again felt the Lord’s direction, this time to institute a healing service. He had a billboard posted, notices placed in the newspaper, and handed out fliers announcing the first week-day noontime healing service. Twenty persons showed up and eight came to the altar to receive the laying on of hands.
From that first service there were dramatic healings of both the mind and body. Soon the weekly services were filling the church. At the height of St. Stephen’s the healing ministry in the 1950s there were two Thursday healing services, one at noon and another in the evening. Price found that the down-and outers of his district responded with great faith to his simple laying on of hands and prayer counseling. Alcoholics were dried out, and so many prostitutes were converted (including a woman who became his organist) that the madams moved their houses of business to another part of town.
The healing services at St. Stephen’s were simple services that followed the format of the Rev. Banks’ Manual of Christian Healing. There was a reading of a Gospel account of one of Jesus’ healing miracles, a brief sermon, and then the people were invited to come forward for healing through the laying on of hands. The Rev. Price made it a point never to pass the plate at his healing services. He wanted to remove even the appearance of monetary motivation and sensationalism from the service.
Under the Rev. Price, St. Stephen’s became the de facto headquarters of non-Pentecostal Christian healing in the United States. In 1950 Price organized the first nationwide conference on the Church’s ministry of healing. In 1955 the meetings were renamed the “International Conference on the Church’s Ministry of Healing,” reflecting the fact that they steadily attracted persons from Canada, the British Isles and other parts of the world. The yearly conferences lasted into the 1980s, but it was in the 1950s and 1960s that they were most important. For here many of the healing ministers of American Christian mainline churches, including some who were to become important in the charismatic renewal, met, networked and had their yearly convention.
Many Episcopal priests (and some ministers from other denominations) were converted to and sustained in active healing ministries through the Order of St. Luke, and many of these became active in the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s. Before the Charismatic Renewal made healing acceptable and non-cultish for mainline Christians, the OSL provided one of the few covers of respectability and theological orthodoxy available to the ordained clergy in the healing ministry. In fact, the Sharing periodically published lists of its degreed professionals, physicians, ministers and priests, educators, etc., in an attempt to make Christian healing more respectable to the mainstream. But the OSL, and its healing ministry really remained at the margins of the Episcopal Church., and sadly made little impression in the Episcopal seminaries which were becoming increasingly liberal.
TO BE CONTINUED:
Detailed information on the history of the International Order of St. Luke the Physician is difficult to obtain. When the headquarters of the Order were moved to Texas in the 1960s the earliest editions of Sharing, its journal, were neatly bundle, and then thrown out (a cruel blow for the Christian historian indeed!). Several article length surveys of the OSL have been published in Sharing, its monthly magazine: Mrs. Harriet Mead, “History of the International Order of St.Luke the Physician,” Sharing, (Jan 1984),8-13. John H. Parke, “The Reawakening: A Brief history of the OSL,” Sharing ((March, 1989), 22-29. I did a later article in Sharing on the topic, “Making Healing Respectable: the OSL,” Sharing, (Jan 1992),
The other two were the Rev. Robert Russell who later established a large church in Denver, and the Rev. Conover of New Jersey.
Henry B. Wilson, Ghosts or Gospels, (Boonton, NJ: Nazarene Press, 1923).
Henry B. Wilson, Ghosts or Gospels, (Boonton, NJ: Nazarene Press, 1923).
 It was not until the 1960s that the most main-line Christians accepted the discernment that the spirits which manifested in séances, automatic handwriting, pendulums, etc., were really demonic entities pretending to be spirits of the dead. This is known as the “demonic counterfeit” view of spiritualist manifestations. It was first put forth in modern times by Seventh Day Adventists writers in the 1850s, and definitively articulated in the Rev. John Nevius’ classic description of possession, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1896). The demonic counterfeit concept was made widely known by a work published in England in the 1950s, and reissued by Logos International in the 1960s: Raphael Gasson’s, The Challenging Counterfeit. (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1966).
See a brief sketch of Mrs. Banks by her assistant: Katherine L Powell, “Remembering Ethel Banks,” Sharing (Dec. 1991), 12-14.
Taped interview in author’s possession with the Rev. Alfred W. Price, March 30, 1985. The Rev. Price was the second Warden of the Order of St. Luke and was best friends of the Banks.
 Ethel Tulloch Banks, Come Unto Me (San Diego; Fellowship of St. Luke’s ).
 John Gayner Banks, The Redemption of the Body, (Mountain Lakes, NJ: Christian Healing Foundation, [cir. 1931].
Taped interview with Dr. Alfred Price, at his home in St. Petersburg FL, March 30, 1985, in author’s possession.
 The story of his studies at Harvard is described in his two part pamphlet, Ambassadors of God’s Healing, and An Adventure in the Church’s Ministry of Healing, (Irvington, NJ: St. Luke’s Press, [cir., 1967]), 78-83.
Ibid., 82 .
See the account of St. Stephen’s in the 1950s, in: Stanley High, “More Things Are Wrought by Prayer…,” Reader’s Digest, (June, 1957).