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Passing the Peace

By Reverend Heather Miner, North Long Beach Christian Church

As part of becoming a coach with the International Coaching Federation, I was taught to ask deep questions to help a person or group find their best way forward.  So, when a visitor mentioned to me that he was “put off” by the hugging during North Long Beach Christian Church’s Passing of our Peace, I brought the question to the church Board.  I asked, “What is the reason for our Passing of the Peace?”

We are a small church, so the Passing of the Peace can take up a good amount of time of our worship.  Often each person wants to make sure they have given everyone a hug.   I’ve been uncomfortable, at times, watching a visitor remain in their pew, unsure of what to do.   And, at times, I confess, I have worried about the parade of people greeting our visitors.  Our church has people with all kinds of abilities to move, those who have brain injuries, and some people with visible mental struggles.  Our visitor suggested that one of the women tried to “pick him up” and that “it was a bit much” having all the people come towards him to greet him.

I seeded the discussion, giving voice to reasons not to have this part in our worship—everything from worry about passing of germs to how it can make visitors feel uncomfortable.  I talked about the visitor and his reaction.  I could feel the Board members shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

I also lifted up that there is something very powerful about watching the people move past differences to embrace one another.

What is the purpose of our Passing of the Peace?

The Board members spoke.

One single woman said that the “Some of us don’t get touched a whole lot.  I look forward to that time in worship because I get a whole lot of hugs.”

One of the gentlemen noted that, even though visitors may not at first enter in, they could see visitors are emotionally moved to see us loving one another.

Another man, “In a world where we are told not to touch, this is one place where we can, without being misunderstood.”

A woman ended our discussion with…”If someone is turned off by our Passing of the Peace, they are probably not a match for our church.”

They shared with one another ways they offer a visitor their hand; how they watch to see what will make a visitor feel most welcome.  It was a powerful conversation which ended with, both an understanding that it can be difficult for visitors, and an affirmation of the need for touch in worship.

I still had some work to do.  In worship, one of our Deacons invites people into the Passing of the Peace.  Based on something they heard before my time they stumble about talking about air hugs, don’t pass germs, and how it is flu season and we all need to make sure we are using Kleenex.

It became clear in a conversation with a dear friend who was coaching me, that a light liturgy would be helpful here.

And so, our Deacons now invite with these words:

As part of our worship, we take time to embrace one another, offering the peace of God.  Some shake hands.  Others hug.   Some participate without touch by crossing their arms like this.  We invite you to let down your walls so you might give and receive love. 

The Peace of God be with you. 

Because of the conversation with the Board, I also have permission to limit the time of the Passing of the Peace by directing the musicians to bring us back into worship.  Someday, they will be able to feel it on their own when the energy is starting to fade or when a visitor is starting to look way too uncomfortable.  For now, I direct.

But there is still the woman who flirted with our visitor during the Passing of the Peace. Last week, our visitor, by an act of God, returned.  I ran into our energetic “problem child” before worship.  As soon as I started talking about our visitor, she started in on how he is handsome and asked “is he single?”  I laughed.  And, I explained if she wants him to stick with us, she has to give him a side hug from now on.  I demonstrated.  She said, “okay.”   And, that is exactly what she did.

For now, we have found peace!

Many of our conference coaches have begun asking deeper questions of their church boards.  Good questions can elevate a meeting from report giving to Kingdom building.  In the past, I had tried more general questions.  And, there was general dispassionate discussion.  What made this question different was the church people had a stake in its answer.  The conversation helped us all find a better way.

And, it also helped that I had someone outside of my setting with whom to talk it through that led to the liturgy.

We, of the United Church of Christ, often pride ourselves on preferring questions over answers.  When we lead with good, relevant, questions our church feels empowered to be the people of God.  And, when we allow others to ask us deep questions, we are empowered to be leaders of God’s people.

Peace!

Heather

P.S.  I have covenanted with the SCNCUCC to coach pastors at no cost for six, half hour, sessions.  If you want to take advantage of my availability, please send me an email at hdminer1@aol.com and we’ll schedule the time.

Reverend Heather Miner
North Long Beach Christian Church
Pastor, http://www.nlbcc.net/
Coach, www.thesixthdayorg

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