Monday, August 11, 2008

Peace Passing Ponderings

When I was a teenager, the church I attended didn't participate in the liturgical tradition of "Passing the Peace," and so when I was first introduced to it at a Montreat Youth Conference many years ago, it was a new concept to me at the time, and I quite enjoyed it. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it is a fairly simple procedure done during worship in many different Christian traditions, and dates back to antiquity. The practice can be done slightly differently depending on where it is performed, but generally speaking, one person greets another by saying "The peace of Christ be with you" (perhaps while shaking that person's hand), and the other person responds "and also with you." This is also considered a time for Christians to make reconciliation to each other, if one has wronged another. Some scholars date the tradition back to the concept of the "holy kiss" that Paul writes about in Romans 16:16, although I don't know of any American churches that do the "kissing" part.

Anyway, I felt that the practice highlighted the relational nature of what it is for the church to be the "body of Christ," and I was pretty happy as a youth to try to introduce the concept to my church back home. When I heard that a few of the older members of my church complained about it a few weeks after we "passed the peace" at Youth Sunday Service, I just chalked it up to what so many of us who are heavily involved in the life of the Church have come to understand as the "we've never done it that way before" problem.

Now that I've grown up, and have perhaps become a bit "set in my ways," myself (not that this is a good thing!), I'm less enthusiastic about the tradition. Especially now that I'm in a church where I know fewer people (their definite warmth and hospitality notwithstanding), the introverted side of my nature takes far greater precedence, and I find the practice to be more of a chore than a blessing. I wonder if the people at my particular church lean more on the extroverted side than most. Whereas people at most churches I've been to shake a few hands, greet a few people, and then go back to their seats, this church really gets into the time of greeting and catching up with how people are doing. A lot of folks make sure they've got my name right (I'm impressed with how many actually have, in a relatively short time), and will ask questions or make comments about something I may have mentioned a previous week. This is not something I really wish to criticize, but I must confess that having to go through this every week for an extended period of time is kind of my own personal version of Hell. It's really not at all a "peaceful" activity for me, but rather one in which I must make the effort to be friendly, and just spend some time "recharging" after it is over (which is true for me some time before it's true for most of the rest of the congregation!).

But I still think that such practices are important. How are members of the church to "carry each other's burdens" if they don't spend time getting to know each other? And I would indeed argue that spending time in fellowship is, itself, an act of worship, which is why this practice is appropriately placed within the Sunday Worship gathering itself, as opposed to being relegated to coffee time afterward (which I confess I don't currently tend to stick around for). It's just an act of worship that I need to consciously engage in, rather than one that comes naturally to me.


  1. Interesting. I *believe* you know that we've come to do the "Passing of the Peace" regularly, now (I guess Tom started it full-time when he became our minister), though we alternate between "reflecting in silence" and actually getting up and greeting one another (every other week). Not sure where I was going with that, other than to say the above. I can go either way with it, myself - and I admit to being glad we don't actively get up and about *every* week.

  2. Obviously, Tom's well since my time. I was just commenting on the state of affairs at Fourth back when we were in high school.

    And I still think it's a good practice (every week or not). It's just tiring for me (and you, apparently) personally.



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