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Not faith healing...faith in healing

by Jacob Resneck, Enterprise Staff Writer

TUPPER LAKE - It's Wednesday evening inside St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and 58-year-old Hal Wilson said he is here because he'd heard of the healing reputation of the Rev. Nigel Mumford, a former British Royal Marine.

After waiting in line with nearly 70 people, it's Wilson's turn. Mumford lays his hands on the former U.S. Marine's shoulders for several minutes as the two quietly pray together.

"I learned that Rev. Mumford had been a Marine, and I thought there might be a connection," Wilson explained afterward, "and there certainly was." A veteran who fought in Vietnam and Laos in 1969-70, Wilson said he's still processing his experiences. He'd recently moved to Tupper Lake with his wife from Long Island partly to be near family in the Adirondacks.

The healing service, a first for him, was profound.

"It's the first time a drill instructor touched me and didn't leave a bruise," Wilson quipped.

Mumford is somewhat of a rising star in the Episcopal Church. A successful author who tours internationally, the 52-year-old Briton is based at the Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, near Saratoga Springs.

Mumford is adamant that he's not the one who heals people - that's God's doing, he said. He's written a book about his experiences as a British soldier and drill sergeant and his transformation that led him into the Episcopal Church, where he has made a name for himself as a healer.

"It's not faith healing," he said. "It's faith in healing. Things happened when I was in the Marines. I had nine near-death experiences; I am alive for a reason."

Mumford was not religious in his earlier years, he said. But after witnessing the healing of his sister - a dancer in the Royal Ballet in London - who in 1989 was in her death throes from a rare neurological disease, he said became a believer in the power of faith's healing powers. His sister, he said, was healed by a priest, and this dramatic event led Mumford in 1995 to give up his picture-framing business and join the ministry for healing.

In a brief sermon, Mumford told churchgoers that healing is a central tenet of Christianity - whether or not that's reflected in modern churches.

"Wouldn't it be nice if every time someone drove past a church, they could say, 'That's a place of healing,'" he said. "We preach the kingdom, but it's also to heal the sick. It's important to get past being the country club and be a place of healing again. I want you to take that away with you."

Throughout the evening, Mumford draws on his experiences as a military man and seems to revel in the irony of his past as a drill instructor-turned-minister.

"I'm a former drill instructor," he deadpans. "My job was to make grown men cry - and I still do that, but in a different way."

In an interview, Mumford said he joined the Royal Marines at age 17 because he was tired of sitting on a waiting list as a policeman. He rose up the ranks and became a drill instructor training recruits, many of them destined to be sent to a turbulent Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

His military career ended in 1978 after men he'd trained were killed in Northern Ireland - an event that Mumford said left him deeply scarred with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I hit the wall with PTSD," Mumford said. "Four of my recruits were killed in Belfast; for weeks I couldn't speak." He was granted an honorable discharge on medical grounds, he said.

Because of his military background, many veterans are drawn to him to seek his help in healing. Recently, Mumford said, he met a former U.S. Marine who had been a sniper in Iraq. Every time the man closed his eyes, he'd see a chronological slide show of the people he'd shot and killed, Mumford said.

At the end of their meeting, the former soldier mentioned casually that he'd been shot and still had an Iraqi sniper's bullet lodged in his heart.

"So the hurt was physical as well as emotional," Mumford said.

He's also counseled many Vietnam veterans who are racked with guilt.

"I worked with a Vietnam vet who only knew 'Thou shalt not kill,' and he'd killed a lot of Vietnamese," Mumford said. Mumford says he reconciles Christian teachings with modern warfare by reading a passage from Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season ... a time to kill, and a time to heal."

It's this passage he shares with fellow veterans.

After the sermon, people lined up out the door for their turn to be received by Mumford.

Rose Shaheen, 74, of Tupper Lake said she has been here before to relieve pain in an arthritic foot.

"I can't hardly walk with it," she said. "I've been praying for it to be healed for so long."

Her foot hasn't been cured, but she said she always feels much better after the healing service.

Others said they have had complete success. Mary Cook, 47, of Tupper Lake, said she's been here before and will return again after a physical ailment was cured.

"I believe in the power of healing because the Lord healed my knee this summer," she said. "I just had the faith and went to the see the doctor in August, and he said I had a new knee."

Mumford said the three main obstacles for healing are people's belief they are unworthy, their inability to forgive others and a negative approach to life. Once these are overcome, with a little faith, the healing can begin, he said.

When relating stories of people healed thousands of miles away who were healed instantly through prayer, Mumford said he's overwhelmed.

"Aaaah - I can't put it into words," Mumford exclaimed. "I'm not that eloquent. But just by showing up - God works miracles. I don't understand it and I don't know if I ever will."

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