by Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
A few weeks ago, a winter cold was starting to settle in. I could feel it working in my head, and I knew boxes of tissues were in my future. It was Sunday, and I was the presiding minister so I elected to switch communion positions so that I could distribute wine. I figured breaking off bread while sniffling wouldn’t exactly speak of God’s feast of healing and love, even though we are careful to sanitize our hands after sharing the peace before distributing the bread.
However, shaking hands during the peace is another way that we may inadvertently share more than the peace of Christ. I decided that I wouldn’t shake hands. I would hold my hands together and make a little bow. It was a little awkward at first, but I could tell as I moved my way toward the back of the church, people had picked up on the new practice. People nodded their heads and smiled. Some flashed the peace sign. Some said, “Peace, feel better.” A few stood and bowed back, a beautiful ritual of reverence for one another. Some seemed relieved that I wasn’t entering their personal space.
It occurred to me that we should all share the peace in a way that feels most comfortable. Of course, the point of the liturgical action is to deepen our human connections with one another before we come to the table. Rather than a break in the liturgical action to say hello, the sharing of the peace is where we reach for one another, for the sake of being reconciled family. We recognize that making community is what we do as the body of Christ.
There are all kinds of way of acknowledging these connections between us. We can bow. We can hold our hands together in a prayer fashion to indicate that the other is in our prayers. We can cross our arms across our chest as a sign that we need to participate in a different way. We can certainly smile and look one another directly in the eye. We can raise our hands in greeting. The point is connecting with one another.
It’s also important to note that these moments of physical connection can be very difficult for some people. Because of history or even by nature, some have great anxiety about shaking hands or touching another person. It’s important that we recognize these needs, and we dare not interpret them as a sign of distance or disconnection. For some of us, simply coming into a room full of people is a sign of community that we know we need but is really hard for us. Some of us can’t look one another in the eye because it’s just too hard. That’s totally okay. What’s most important is that we’re in the room together, and we will all soon come together for Christ’s presence in bread and wine—the connection that we truly need.
I invite you to notice how the people around initiate this simple practice. Respond in a way that matches their sensibility. Of, if you need to take the lead to suggest how you want or don’t want to be touched, be bold and live strongly into the moment. There is no judgment in God’s house. We are all part of God’s beloved community, no matter what.
Some additional perspectives:
Gloria Dei Member Linnea Peterson writes about her experience of sharing the peace.
Elle Dowd writes about her challenges with the church coffee hour.