At some time, almost every person – even the most devout – may become anxious, despairing, or ill. Following instructions given in the New Testament, the Brethren practice an ordinance called anointing: the prayerful, loving application of oil to the forehead of someone in physical or spiritual need.
Most of the time, members take the initiative to request anointing for themselves or for members of their family. Recently, more and more people have discovered anointing as a powerful symbol for the full range of renewal and healing. People ask for anointing before surgery or during serious illness, and they also request it in times of grief, emotional turmoil, or brokenness in relationships.
The anointing service is usually conducted in a home or small-group setting, although some congregations use it in public worship. A time is provided for confession. Then the minister or other representative of the church applies oil three times to the forehead, symbolizing forgiveness in sin, strengthening of faith, and healing of body, mind, and spirit.
Finally the minister lays hands on the one to be anointed, sometimes inviting others present to do the same, and prays specifically for this person’s expressed concern. The laying on of hands is a reminder that the whole congregation, whether present or not, joins in prayer and support.
From “There Am I in the Midst of Them: Ordinances of the Church of the Brethren”