It Would Be a Mistake to Give Up Sharing the Peace in Church

Posted: November 3, 2014 in Rite and Rituals
Tags: , ,

kids-high-fivingThom Rainer posted an article on Saturday entitled “The Top 10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests.”

It was a Twitter poll that he conducted.  The compiled answers drew some surprising, and not so surprising, responses.  I kind of love these polls because they’re largely a practice in the discipline of, “See?  Someone will hate something…”

The people are too pushy or too distant.  They’re not sincere enough (subjective anyone?).  Or the building is poorly laid out and poorly marked.

Actually, that last one is a real issue…

I mean, there is no way to please everyone.

But one of the surprising responses is what Rainer calls “The stand up and greet everyone time.”

Which is an un-fancy way of saying, “The sharing of the peace of Christ.”

And here is where we see what happens when practices lose their roots.

Because the practice of sharing the peace is not a “stand up and greet everyone time.”  It is not done to make friends, and it is not done to welcome guests or visitors.

It is not done to chat about your week, and it not done to make you feel uncomfortable.

The sharing of the peace is a rite as old as the first church where (and you can read about it in the books of 1 Peter, Romans, 2 Corinthians) the church is instructed to greet one another with a “holy kiss.”

In fact, ancient Roman authorities called Christians a “kissing cult” because of this practice.

Now, don’t expect a kiss from me on a Sunday morning unless you’re my grandmother’s age, my child, or my wife.  That being said, you could get lucky 😉

But back to the point at hand, this is a liturgical act.  It has deep meaning which we can see in many ways as being Christ breathing on the disciples in the hours after his resurrection where he gives them his peace.  You can see it as a redemption of the kiss of condemnation that Judas gives Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And yes it involves touching.  We’re a touch-starved humanity these days.

And yes it is intimidating for introverts and too opportunistic for extroverts.  But community is as much about being stretched in our comfortability as it is being stretched in our restraint.

And yes it is time-consuming.  I’m not a big fan of extended periods of handshaking.  I’m usually a two to three person shaker/hugger/kisser, and then I’m all for moving on.

But, and let me be clear on this, I think it’s something that we can’t afford to do without.

Because in a world where you get shot at for wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood, we need to learn how to approach people we don’t know in peace.  Because in a world where you won’t let your child play in the yard or talk to people they don’t know, we need a space where it is safe for us to interact in holy ways.

Because in a world where you might wonder if peace actually exists anywhere, what with the 24 hour news cycles of violence and the constant trumpeting of the next terrorist threat, there must be a place where we can embody the peace that Christ calls us to.

We need to be respectful.  We need to honor that some people can’t be touched for whatever reason, that safe touch is on the hand, that not everyone likes hugs.  We have to understand that.

But we can’t not share the peace just because it’s not comfortable.

And I don’t care if it is flu season.  Bow toward the person if you don’t want to make contact.  But realize that your hand may be the only hand that person touches that week.  If you don’t think that’s true, imagine the widow, or the homeless, or the person with a deformity that keeps people away, and then imagine you withdrawing your hand during a time where we greet one another with the peace of Christ.

You might be the embodiment of grace they need.

We’ll high-five at the bar but not at church?  We’ll high-five in the sports arena but not in the pew?

I’m sorry folks, but if sharing the peace of Christ will keep you away from church, I’m not sure you’re ready for community.

By God, share the peace.

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Comments
  1. ThatLawyer says:

    I actively dread it every week and then like it even less than I expect. It is much worse in churches where people say “peace be with you” than in ones where you are just told to greet your neighbor and everyone says good morning. As someone who did not grow up Christian this is super awkward and unnatural and leaves me wondering if I’m supposed to say “and also with you” in a formalistic way, or just repeat the same unnatural phrase or say “peace” as many people shorten it to.

    There are lots of other reasons I can’t stand it, too. All I will say is that it makes me feel more introverted than any other social situation because I have no control over people attacking me with their greetings of peace.

    But, I realize that if one person needs to hear a kind hello and this fulfills that, it’s worth it no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      I think it’s uncomfortable for a lot of us. But, as you say, that’s sometimes OK. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I live with a severe chronic illness and only make it to church at Christmas/Easter. I have always been very reserved with physical contact but have realised since becoming housebound how important human touch is now that I am almost completely deprived of it. I always hated shaking hands with strangers when I was healthy and would grit my teeth and wait for the peace to be over. Now if three of four people greet me and shake my hand during the peace that is more social and physical contact than I would normally have in an entire year. I never thought I’d say this but the peace is of vital importance to people like me.

  3. […] Timothy Brown writes that, “It Would be a Mistake to Give Up Sharing the Peace in Church.” He concludes strongly, writing, “I’m sorry folks, but if sharing the peace of […]

  4. Pastor Troy G. Waite says:

    On Reformation Sunday we followed an order that was just a bit different from the one we normally use. The Peace, however, was in the same place (we share the Peace after the Lord’s Prayer and before the Agnus Dei), but I think there was just enough change in other places to make some a bit nervous, including the organist. Weekly after I say, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always,” and the People responded, “And also with you,” I usually say, “Let us offer one another a sign of Christ’s Peace.” I did the same on Reformation Sunday—or rather, would have done the same—but for some reason before I could get to, “Let us offer one another…” the organist barreled into the Agnus Dei (which, by the way, was the way it was when I was growing up: exchange of peace between Pastor and people, but never between the people themselves).
    I thought some people would be quite upset about this omission as our Peace has turned into the proverbial half-time, coffee hour, “What are you doing after church?” folk fest, etc. I was shocked to hear a significant number of people mention to me after of how much they enjoyed NOT sharing the Peace (and not one voice against not having shared it!)! I heard stories of discomfort, length, the breaking of the reverence of the Liturgy, etc. I was doubly shocked to read the same article by Thom Rainer shortly thereafter and note what the number one way to drive away first-time guests appeared as (although, honestly, I rarely put any stock into those “10 Ways to Raise Jesus From the Dead” surveys…). Is God trying to tell us something?
    I agree that we have lost the meaning behind the sharing of the Peace and, though both I and the Worship Committee have tried and tried again to educate, we always seem to fall back into the “extended half-time activities” after a while. I personally would love to see the time shortened, but not necessarily omitted. As I have shared with the Worship Committee, I do unquestioningly believe there is something both holy and necessary about the action itself (as you state so well in your blog), and something holy is genuinely happening among the people during that time, even if they are not sticking with any stated formula.
    So, for now, we will stick with it, continue to try to educate and remind (yes, I will be sharing this blog with the Worship Committee and others, thank you very much!), and thank God that we have a community wherein we can hear (Word), taste (Holy Communion) and feel God’s loving touch on a regular basis. As a friend of mine says to ones who may be a bit squeamish about overt physical affection, “Oh, gee, how AWFUL for you that someone loves you so much!” 🙂
    Thanks for the article!

  5. Ellen Morris Prewitt says:

    Our priest, in his introduction to the Peace, says, “Y’all kiss each other in the name of the Lord.” I always thought he was being exuberant. Who knew he was going way back to the beginning.

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