Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Passing the Peace and Judging a Congregation

On Sunday, I was fairly sure that a visitor sat behind me. She said a slightly different version of The Lord's Prayer. I wondered what she thought of our service. During the passing of the Peace, I tried to make her feel welcome.

If I was out looking at churches, I would see the passing of the Peace as one of the indicators of the health of the church. How do people greet each other? More importantly, how do they greet strangers? I visited one church in Florida, dutifully pinned the visitor badge on my clothes, and then watched, stunned, as absolutely no one--no one--greeted me at any point in the service. I HAD A VISITOR BADGE!! What is the point of a visitor badge, if not to help the members know the people to whom they should be sure to offer a greeting. I didn't go back.

Both Lutheran churches to which I've belonged in South Florida have had long, long periods of time devoted to the passing of the Peace. There's time to greet most everyone, if you're so inclined. It's so different from any other church I've attended. At most churches, there's time to shake the hands of 3 or 4 people, maybe 6 if you're quick.

I wonder if it's a Latin influence? Most of the churches I've attended in other states are fairly buttoned up emotionally. There's not much hugging during the passing of the Peace or moving away from one's pew in those churches. You can tell that those people are descended from northern Europeans. Or perhaps I'm succumbing to stereotypes. I don't think it's that the members of my South Florida churches just like each other that much more, but perhaps it's an element.

Whatever explains it, I like the fact that we greet each other warmly. I truly feel as if those people are wishing God's peace for me. It's like a multitude of extra benedictions. And if I was a visitor, I'd see that moment in the service as a good sign. At least I would if people made some effort to make me feel included. My hope is that my current church does a good job with that, and I try to do my part to welcome the stranger.

1 comment:

Mrs. M said...

My last church was a mid-size Episcopal parish, and the peace took a while there, too-- it's also one of the ways I judge churches. I was surprised how much variety there was, even of churches in the same diocese, of the same denomination.