Thom 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.