Sunday, August 12, 2012

Milling Around

One of the more humorous radio broadcasters of my college years was Jean Shepherd who held forth on WOR in New York. He was a gabber. Jean was a swell story-teller with a highly creative imagination. He had a way of involving his listeners in “comedic stunts”.

One that I remember is when he told his listeners to go to a particular store in Manhattan at a particular time the next day and simply “mill around”, I suppose as a way of testing the size of his audience—which was considerable. The next day the targeted store was swamped with people, milling around, saying hi to one another and having a delightful time. All to the consternation of the store owners, who were being deprived of doing their regular business.

Fun as this was at the time, the image comes back to me these days in a less than cheerful way. For example, at a recent guest presider/preacher gig, I introduced the Greeting of Peace. After I greeted maybe a dozen folks with the Peace of Christ, I started back to my place. A member headed me off and informed me solemnly, “They like to do this—once they get going, it’s hard to stop them.” I turned around and saw that the Greeting of Peace had turned into a reasonable facsimile of the result of Jean Shepherd’s exploit.

The lady who intercepted me was right. The milling about was lingering on, and people were lallygagging in a kind of liturgical loitering. Like the New York storekeepers victimized by Shepherd’s stunt, the business of worship was being interrupted and brought to a screeching halt.

My efforts at restoring order were apparently too modest, so rather than be totally overwhelmed, I entered the fray and passed Christ’s Peace to everyone personally. I admit that was an act of frustration. At least everyone got one-on-one attention and the special delivery of the ritual act and words. That was not, however, a satisfactory solution. No matter what I accomplished, the hiatus proved to be a hindrance to the flow and force of the service. I still wound up summoning everyone to attention, and basically we started worshipping all over again.

I suppose this milling around is not all that uncommon. And, it’s a lot like crabgrass—once you get it, it’s almost impossible to get rid of.

When the Greeting of Peace became part of our worship, it was the result of the 1970 restoration of the “kiss of peace” to the Roman Catholic Mass. It looked like a good idea, so we Protestants bought it. The problem is that we’ve never really insisted that it be a formal ritual act, and allowed it to be misinterpreted by the people in the pews.

A large part of protestant worship gatherings is what we refer to as “fellowship”—the horizontal relationships between and among members and strangers gathered for worship. This is not incidental or insignificant, but has a prominent place in the life of any congregation. It has to do with pastoral and mutual care of members and hospitality to visitors. The Greeting of Peace, however, is the wrong place in the worship service to meet the congregation’s need for camaraderie. So what’s to be done? How to get some orderliness to the Greeting of Peace without forcing it? And how are the needs for congregational social communion to be met?

First, worship planners and leaders should recognize, and tell everyone else by education, that these are two very different needs, to be met in two different ways on a Sunday morning.

The “ritual” of gathering as a social community should be met immediately prior to the beginning of the service. After people are settled in, the gathering is established by a greeting from the pastor or presider—this salutation can easily morph into a mutual stand-and-greet-one-another festival of hand-shaking, hugging, kissing and mutual welcoming. Then follow the announcements, prelude, call to worship, hymn, etc.

The Greeting of Peace requires more strategic efforts.

Some congregational education needs to take place about the biblical roots of this act, and the history of its usage.

Then some theological discussion needs to take place about it in a variety of venues: choir rehearsals, session meetings, interest, service and social groups. What does it mean to share in the Peace of Jesus Christ? Why is it an act of worship?

Finally, instructions should be clear to worshippers, strangers as well as frequent attenders. Bulletin rubrics should spell it out even more than is found in the Book of Common Worship (1993). For example, after the exchange, “The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you,” the presider might continue: “Let us greet those near us with the words, ‘May the Peace of Christ be with you.’” It gives the people a script, and puts limits on the range of the gesture.

Framed in the liturgy properly, the Greeting of Peace is a powerful spiritual force of unity and healing in the congregation.

How is the Greeting of Peace accomplished in your worship service? Are there welcoming greetings? When are announcements made?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for joining in the conversation!