Faith Works 3-7-15
Why does the peace need to be passed?
My, my, my.
Y'all have some strong feelings about last week's column.
One thing I learned: people love to talk about Disney restaurants. I mean, seriously.
That's because my hook for the discussion last time about "the passing of the peace" was a two sided coaster at a particular theme restaurant in Disney World, where you can be part of the action, or flip it and signal that you'd rather just watch.
Quite a few of you had been to that place, and most of you really, really liked it. So there's that.
As for the ancient ritual of pausing in a Sunday worship service to turn to your neighbors and say "peace be with you" and hear "and also with you," there's a skew in my e-mail.
Granted, those with strong feelings are more likely to take the time to send an e-mail or Facebook message. I'm guessing many of you like the "passing of the peace" somewhat, but pretty much no one loves it so much to take the time to contact me and say "That time is the highlight of my week!"
What I heard some very impassioned, deeply heartfelt messages about was just how difficult that time in church can be. For some.
If you have any form or level of social anxiety disorder, if you struggle with depression or simply are an introvert, the passing of the peace is not a joy. If upper respiratory illness make you nervous and you're surrounded by coughing parishoners, the passing of the peace is a gauntlet of hugs.
For many of you, there's a real cost-benefit equation that needs calculation about the practice of passing the peace. I hear you, and there's a message we all, especially we "churched" people, need to hear.
Because in some ways the most painful feedback I heard last week was from those of you who have been to church, and saw the lovely personal interactions from a distance, hugs and friendly words and "peace be with you," but felt like they were left with a distant "hey there" from almost all.
Yes, I can hear my well-churched friends say, "but those folks who come late and leave early, who hang back from the passing of the peace yet complain to the pastor that they aren't being made welcome by the members…"
Here's the thing: I heard no one ask that the passing of the peace be removed from worship. And in some churches, it's called a fellowship moment, or a transition time when the band shifts and the congregation gets up, the children leave the auditorium, and everyone greets one another… no one said "stop doing that!"
What I've heard from dozens of you is a sincere plea. Those of us who are extroverted and delighted to hug and back slap and greet boisterously need to amp it down a bit; and as we work around the people near us, just take into consideration the signals people are giving off. If someone is taking a very close interest in their bulletin or their Bible during this time, it's a hint. Take it!
But at the same time, if we're just greeting warmly those we know, and mostly turning our backs on strangers, well, the Big Guy had something to say about that: "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much." (Matthew 5:46)
So it's a both/and question. Go easy when you're not sure how people welcome direct interaction, but be inclusive where you can, with everyone you should. Or as the Boss also says, "Love one another." And love doesn't mean hugging someone who's wincing!
One commenter said to me "Your column seems to focus on helping us church people see how what we do looks to people who aren't as into the whole church thing." Guilty as charged, sir. That, and educating us all in the whats and whys and who or Who of church life, which I love, but which can be challenging for those thinking about entering into it. The passing of the peace should be a wide door of entry into community and communion with Jesus, not a barrier that comes down to exclude.
And first and foremost, we should remember, in words or approaches, that the point is sharing the peace of Christ as a part of worship!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to know "why" about in worship & church life at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.