Welcoming the Stranger

Welcoming the Stranger

Passing the Peace of Christ

 

Also in retirement, I have read with interest John Buchanan’s blog “Welcoming the Stranger”.

 

“A Christian ritual meant to affirm community, love and unity among believers, can also be exclusive, awkward and off-putting to people who are not part of the community….I have never been a fan of Passing the Peace for that reason.”

 

It has been my personal experience that the “Passing of the Peace of Christ” can also be a positive ritual enhancing community life in worship.  As with anything we do in public worship, regular and rigorous instruction as to why we do certain things is important.  Passing the Peace of Christ, among other aspects of worship, is helpful in assuring the full acceptance and inclusion of strangers.  I agree with John Buchanan on the point that some of the churches I visit do very little to make the “stranger feel welcome”.   I have also had the opposite experience.  What is required if a church has the “Passing of the Peace of Christ”:

 

Rigorous Instruction:

1.     As John Buchanan asserts, don’t forget we are talking about the peace of Christ.  Some churches simply say, “Peace be with you”.  Buchanan says,

       “…..why not “the Peace of Christ”? It is what we mean; not the generic “peace” the aging 60′s folksinger signs off with accompanied by the raised two-finger peace sign. Why not say it: “The Peace of Jesus Christ be with you”?”

2.     It is time to make sure we pass the peace in the name of Christ.  Instruction as to the importance of this is required. 

2.     This ritual in our worship is not a “time out” to socialize or catch up on the one’s most recent golf game or recipe! 

3.     This is a time to recognize and actually meet those around us sharing in the worship experience.  We do not worship in isolation but in the context of those sitting around us—including strangers/visitors. 

4.     Regular and rigorous instruction in invoking discussion about the presence of Christ in our midst is the task of all teaching and ruling elders as church leaders.

 

A couple of personal antidotes:   In the small inner-city church I most recently served, the “Passing of the Peace of Christ” was not a ritual when I first arrived as pastor in the mid 1980’s.  It took a long time for the Session to introduce this ritual in public worship.  When I departed this church as pastor in 2013, this ritual had become one of the most valuable of all the things we did as a community of faith in worship.  We did run into the trap of discovering this ritual had a social element.  It was often hard to get a group in the back of the church to sit back down! J  This also became a time for an usher to come check on my pulpit water L.   Some more instruction was required.  There was one young man I enjoyed watching.  He made it a point to greet EVERYONE present in worship.  I think he was going to become a politician.  On this point, I am glad we were a smaller congregation. 

 

Another point:  I was pleased (and proud) to see church members not only greet as pass the peace of Christ with visitors/strangers but who would also take the initiative to move and sit with the visitors to help them feel more a part of the community. 

 

In agreement with John Buchanan, I did have the feeling we were almost too friendly turning this sacred ritual into a social event.  It was impossible to visit this church and go unnoticed or welcomed.  To some this experience of ‘warmth’ could be overwhelming.

 

As for the discussion about the fellowship following worship, I had the same experienced as Dr. Buchanan.  I too would experience the same people sitting in the same place.  I do believed, however, that it was rare that a visitor would be left standing a lone looking at the ceiling tiles.  (I’m not sure but I believe the ceiling in our fellowship hall is plaster…I am really not sure J)

 

 

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