Last week I read a few articles that were produced around the same time on the subject of Greeting Time during Worship Service. Most of these articles were about how this greeting time is actually negative and some of the articles even advocated to get rid of greeting all together. In fact, it is said that the number one reason why most visitors do not come back to a church is because they had to greet one another during the service. I found this to be a very bitter shock. Not all of these articles were saying this, though. One article informed us as to why visitors hate greeting one another.
These articles were shared by pastors who are friends of mine on Facebook. Some were looking for comments to see what others had to say, but a lot were actually supporting the idea of getting rid of greeting. Most of the comments I read (approximately 95%) were in support of “nixing the act”. I couldn’t believe this! My heart broke open when I saw so many people not wanting to shake hands with people of the same faith! Let alone, people in the same worship service!
I have to argue against the idea of getting rid of greeting. I will be approaching this subject from historical, theological, and personal experiences.
Here are the main reasons why people are against greeting time:
1. I’m an introvert (being forced)
2. It’s not sincere (forced)
3. Lack of hygiene
4. It is awkward
5. Even members don’t like it
(paraphrased into my own headings)
Let us take a look at the first two reasons, because I feel that they are connected. I completely understand what people mean when they say they are introverted and do not like meeting new people. I know that VERY WELL! You see, I have what is called Avoidant Personality Disorder. For those who know me personally, you know that I am terrible at keeping conversations going. You know that I will hesitate using my phone or asking questions. When I do get on the phone, I run away. When we first got married and were living in a one bedroom apartment, I would lock myself in the bathroom and turn the fan on because I didn’t want anyone else knowing what I was talking about. Jonee has to go do some of the most simplest of things for me because I cannot make myself do them. I rarely start a conversation and VERY rarely go out of my way to greet someone new. So I understand probably better than the person who uses this reason what it means to be introverted.
“It’s not sincere”. These two reasons are linked because what they are really trying to say is that the visitors feel forced to greet one another. “I’m an introvert so you might as well skip me, besides I know it is pretty well forced, so don’t waste your greeting time on someone like me.” (Let us go ahead and rope number 5 into this) “Also, I can tell that you don’t even like this part of the service and you’ve been here for 50 years!” Now, here is why these reasons do not work.
“O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Do you know who said that to God? It was Moses. We all know the story (or at least the main parts) of Moses and the Exodus. So we know that since Moses was an introvert and felt forced, that God responded accordingly. “Oh, okay. I’m sorry, Moses. I didn’t realize I was putting this huge burden on you. You must feel so forced into this and I doubt you have time in your schedule. You know what, I’ll use Joel Osteen instead. He has no problem speaking for me.” This may seem like a silly example, but when you think about it, this cuts straight to the core. We know that God put Moses in His place. “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Exodus 4.11-12 NRSV). We want to use this excuse of being introverted to not have to do something that makes us feel forced. So if we see this as a reason with foundation, then we might as well go ahead tell God the same thing.
God: “Go and give the clothes off your back”
Introvert: “No, God, you’re forcing me to do something that I’m not comfortable with.”
God: “Go and help that widow”
Introvert: “No, God, I’m not good at speaking to people. So I don’t want to.”
God: “Go and make disciples”
Introvert: “They won’t be sincere”
God: “Go and shake a fellow believer’s hand during this time of worshiping me”
Introvert: “No, God. They don’t even want to do it. Stop forcing me. Don’t you understand that I am an introvert?”
When we start to believe that our personality disorders give ample room to do (or mentally think not to do) what we want, then where do we see that line between us and God’s direction? Being an introvert and feeling like it is forced upon you is no different than when God calls you to do anything. You do have the choice to do or not do such things, but which is more rewarding?
“It is Awkward”
I’m not quite done focusing on the being forced aspect just yet. This will be short and to the point. You see, when we are forced to do something, we always experience something that we wouldn’t have if we freely volunteered ourselves to do in the first place. The next time you are at a church service, take a quick look around during the greeting time. Hopefully you’ll see the same thing I notice. There are major generational and ethnical gaps that are bridged instantly. When I was a teenager, I attended a Christian Union church in my hometown. This was my first church, ever. And I was one of the youngest members (who wasn’t a child brought by their parents) to attend. There were members well into their 80’s. In fact, if the age difference was seen as a See-Saw, then I’d be flying in the air as the elderly would be weighing down the other end. And I did not enjoy the greeting time because here was this awkward teenager who hung out with drug dealers, thieves, and “adulterers” (or horny teenagers/couples) having to shake hands with elderly Christians who have attended that church for many years. But that is exactly what happened. This troubled teenager in great health was shaking hands elderly Christians who were not in great health. I had to cross a generational gap, and because I did that, Christ was truly in the midst.
So if the Church stops “forcing” people to greet one another, then where else will we see teenagers shaking hands with elderly? Ex-felons shaking hands with priests? Whites shaking hands with blacks, latinos, asian, polynesian, etc.? The healthy with the sick? And where else will we see all of this happening in the love and joy of Christ? Most people will quickly respond by saying, “well, we are Christian. So we will do that anyway.” And I will quickly say, no. No you won’t. If you cannot do it in a small 10 sec-5 minute window while you are all gathered to worship the same God, then you cannot do it anywhere. If you argue that Christians in Church are not sincere when greeting one another, then they never will anywhere else. This is the one place to be sincere!
Another argument that I heard was that people will greet visitors before the service, so why have a greeting time? This is exactly why! We are showing how universal Christ is! He is not just white, middle-class, and American! He is young, He is black, He is poor, He is rich, He is dying, He is healthy, He is the priest, He is the ex-Felon, He is us. But again, if we cannot do it for just 10-seconds during our collective worship of God, then we definitely will not do it before or after a service. We will pick and choose who we greet (and research shows that the people we choose to greet are those who are most like ourselves). So now, I ask, how is being forced to shake hands with people of all ages, race, health, and class during our collective worship of the same God, such a bad thing? How is it awkward?
Or let us look at it from a more Episcopalian and Catholic view. What about churches who “Pass the Peace of Christ”? There is something extremely beautiful in passing the peace. What passing the peace is, is an act where congregants will come face to face with one another and say, “Peace be with you”. This may not seem like much, but when it is in context of the Scriptural words of Christ, it is supernatural. “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14.27 NRSV). We are telling people that we bestow Christ’s Peace onto their soul. The very peace that Christ says will calm our troubled hearts. This is a peace that is given through Christ’s loving forgiveness. When we are “forced” to pass the peace, then must remember the very members of our congregations. These are real human beings who have probably done something to wrong us or hurt us in one way or another. But by passing the peace, we have to truly step up and say to them with a sincere heart, “I am passing Christ’s forgiving Peace to you. What you have done to hurt me, is forever erased by Christ’s peace that I have passed to you.” If we are not “forced” to greet one another, then how in the world can we do something like this? Therefore, we must get rid of the excuse that it is awkward and forced upon us. If it wasn’t forced and uncomfortable, then you’d never pass Christ’s intergenerational, interracial, interclassed peace to those who are not like you.
“Lack of Hygiene”
This is the one excuse that makes me angry. It may be the most understanding excuse, but it is also the most counter-Christian. We as modern Americans would rather give invisible (online) money to those who are sick, then give our own cash that we have touched. We would rather pray for those who are sick, then to be even near a hospital. We have created a mentality that God is not bigger than sickness and disease. Living in Dallas has really opened my eyes to the way that American Christians view sickness. We live only a few minutes from the very hospital the man with Ebola died in. It is the very same hospital that the nurse had gotten Ebola from. Seriously, Jonee passes that hospital on her 12 minute drive to work every day. We had many people who would say how worried they are for us (and they didn’t even know how close we actually were to it). I once had a conversation with some friends who were talking about someone they knew who planned to go to Africa for a missions trip. This person wanted to drop everything and go to Africa for two months. First they thought it was ridiculous to do a mission trip for that long (even after I explained how short term missions hurt the very people they came to help). Then they started talking about how selfish (I’m not even joking) it was for them to go while there is an Ebola outbreak. It was selfish of them to go because they could get sick and make us all worry about them. They thought it would be better for them to wait until the outbreak was over before going to Africa.
This is the attitude that we Americans have developed about diseases. We do not see the point in risking our health for someone else’s. It is noble to help a man who cut his hand, but it is stupid to help a man with Ebola. But guess what, here comes Jesus to once again kill our American ways.
“When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8.1-4 NRSV).
This may not seem like a big deal, until we look closer at the text. “He stretched out his hand and TOUCHED HIM…” Jesus touched the leper! HE TOUCHED THE LEPER! WITH HIS BARE FLESH! Imagine watching your pastor put his/her hand onto a man with Ebola. How would you treat your pastor from then on? You’d most likely stay away from them! You’d quarantine your pastor for a month, and even after then you’d still hesitate coming within 20 feet of them again! You’d pack up your neatly uncreased Bible and move to the back pew or even to the balcony. In the time of Jesus, He would have been outcast for seven days after touching the leper! But the leper was made clean and was told to do the exact ritual to be proclaimed clean! Jesus did the unthinkable and I’m not talking about what He supernaturally did that we will never be able to do. No, I’m talking about what He humanly did. He touched the leper.
Can you imagine being the leper? He begged Jesus to heal him, and that was all. He did not grab Jesus, and he did not force his skin onto Jesus’. All he did was ask Jesus to heal him. What Jesus did next was completely on His own. We don’t know how long this man had been a leper, but most skin diseases take quite awhile to become noticeable (don’t look it up, I could be wrong). This man may have been a leprous outcast for most of his life. This means that he hasn’t felt the touch of another human being in a very VERY long time. He knew not to touch anyone because he wouldn’t want to wish anyone be outcast like him. But Jesus didn’t care. He saw the compassion this man needed. He saw the love that was gone. He saw the hopelessness. So He placed His bare skin onto the leper’s.
So let me ask you this. If you are not willing to shake hands with a fellow believer in worship, then why are you even there? Are you there to worship in community as a unit? Are you there to be a part of the Body of Christ? Or are you there simply because you still think that Jesus is just your personal Savior? We must twist our American minds around this thought of it being about me. We are too caught up in clinging onto the fact that Jesus is a personal savior, and don’t want to take the next baby step. The next baby step is realizing that Jesus is also a UNIVERSAL Savior. He is beyond white middle class America. He can save anyone, anywhere. By taking the next baby step, we enter a whole new mindset of worship. We realize that what happens to me, is not just happening to me. What happens to my Christian neighbor, is not just happening to them. You see, when one member of our congregation is diagnosed with brain cancer, then we all have brain cancer. Because when we come to God, we rid ourselves of…well ourselves. We put on a whole new body, and that is of Christ Jesus. But too often (WAY TOO OFTEN) we are stuck in baby step one, which is that Jesus is MY PERSONAL Savior. Most people never take the plunge into Jesus is the UNIVERSAL Savior. In all reality, it is not a plunge. That is why I keep calling it a baby step. It is simple and easy, but since we are American, it is taboo. We refuse to let Christ make us into a new creation (which is to mold us into the shape of His body). So we would rather get rid of greeting as an act of worship, than to do something we feel forced to do.
Using lack of hygiene is a pitiful and shameful (the most shameful) excuse! Jesus was more than willing to touch the untouchable. But we won’t even shake hands with people in our own congregation. We do not worship with them, we do not love them, we do not focus on God, then. We are telling God that we need Him to do something for us (like get rid of greeting), than to tell us what to do next. Take a moment to imagine something with me. Imagine an old woman who has cancer in your congregation. She is very sick, and is not able to walk during the greeting. How many people do you think would actually walk up to her and shake her hand? Of course, it could be said that those people are worried about getting her sick, but in all honesty, that is not really why they didn’t shake her hand. They were afraid that they would get sick (even though we know that is not how cancer works). Imagine how sincerely she wants to feel just the touch of another human being. What if there is a man with Parkinson’s disease? Or a man with HIV? How many people would actually shake their hand? You see, disease does not create lepers, we do. We do not see ourselves as being a part of the Body of Christ. Therefore, these people with cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, STD’s, and even Ebola have no business being a part of our church. If they are a part of our church, we should get rid of greeting one another just out of respect for the rest of the congregation! Except, those who have taken baby step two, will see why this is one of the most flawed views of Christianity since Marcionism. The rest of the congregation isn’t healthy. We all have cancer. We all have HIV. We all have Parkinson’s. We all have STD’s. WE. ALL. HAVE. EBOLA.
If we get rid of greeting time because we are afraid of other people’s hygiene, then we are a walking contradiction. We are a misrepresentation of Christ. I honestly would not be surprised if God would lock His gates to keep people like us out. When we treat people like lepers, I believe God will treat us like lepers in His Kingdom. He will make us outcasts. We did not inherit His Kingdom, then, because we are dirty. We are the ones who are sick.
Finally, we come full circle. If we still hang onto the notion that it is because of hygiene that we should get rid of greeting time, then we still believe that God is below diseases. This is Scripturally untrue. “6 Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”—so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body—” (Exodus 4.6-7 NRSV).
There is no reason not to use Greeting as an act of worship. The Body of Christ has no secrets, has no individual health, and has no room for declining to pass Christ’s loving peace. There is no other act within the Church that physically shows the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God co-existing at the same time before our eyes. You will never see these gaps being crossed outside that of Christ. Therefore, we must get rid of our self-righteousness and take that baby step. We are a body who is worshiping God together. Let us be the Body.