Friday, April 09, 2010

Peace be with you

One of the preachers I admire suggests that a sermon does its job best if someone becomes uncomfortable (or gets mad at the preacher) upon hearing it. This Sunday, I may make some people uncomfortable. (It's time; I've been pretty gracious for three years.)

A visiting liturgist spoke at our recent clergy day, and gave evidence that the passing of the peace in church can so easily be unwelcoming, when the intent is the exact opposite. While newcomers or visitors awkwardly await a handshake, others around them share extended, effusive bear hugs or kisses as though it's a family reunion (which, some will argue, it is). But the more the exchange of words get away from passing the peace (making lunch plans, exchanging recipes), the time becomes a kind of intermission with gymnastics -- or at least some crazy pew-leaping -- which can give the offertory sentence a quality of desperation when attempting to call people back into worship.

Not long ago, I received the gift of an authentic, brief, and much-needed passing of God's peace from a colleague during an extremely chaotic Eucharist. This exchange meant so much to me that I'm willing to offend some people to get the circus atmosphere to stop. We'll see how it goes.


Blogger Castanea_d said...

I have an uneasy relationship with the Peace, partly for the reasons you mention. With one of our regular services, it is the moment where I feel most foreign to that congregation; some Sundays, I feel like a complete stranger as they go around, hugging and kissing and carrying on. The problem is probably mine, not theirs -- elder brother of the Prodigal, one of my most easily assumed traits.

I have shared with you and others something I learned years ago at a Presbyterian conference on liturgy and music. Passing the Peace was still rather new in those days and that tradition, and it was a point of emphasis at the week's conference. The first night at the Eucharist, the Peace was passed. There were many people who knew each other from past years and had not seen one another since the previous summer. About a third of the conferees were teenagers. The end result was much hugging and joyful reunion with old friends (though very little in the way of welcoming the stranger).

The next day in the preservice announcements, the liturgist (I think it was Horace Allen, whom I respect) noted that a group of students from Taiwan had come to him after the service to express their discomfort with all the hugging and carrying on. He talked with them at length that evening. Between them, they decided that it would be worth making an experiment, borrowing something from their Oriental culture; bow to one another in silence, looking in the eyes of the person you are greeting. There in the announcements, we practiced, and then did it that way in the service. It did not "stick" in that conference beyond that one service, though it did make it acceptable to not-hug for those who found it uncomfortable.

On bad days, I pass the peace in this manner, grateful for those who taught it to me. For we do, most desperately, need the Peace of the Lord. And we are given it as a free, unmerited gift; given it not to hoard, but to share.

9:14 AM  

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