I found this lovely image at Peace with Christ Lutheran Church.
“Since we have received such a great peace, let us also share peace with one another. The peace of Jesus Christ be with you,” I say.
“And also with you,” they say back.
This is a ritual that I experience, and very often, initiate on Sunday mornings. I frequently travel to many different congregations to lead worship, and most of them include what is called The Passing of the Peace. After saying these words together, we then travel around the room to greet one another, saying, “Peace be with you,” and sometimes, “Good morning.”
Most of the time, we shake hands.
But yesterday, when I was at Kirk of Our Savior Presbyterian Church in Westland, Michigan, I had an experience that was especially lovely. It was just different enough that I will remember it for a long time. And in the midst of it, I felt genuinely and deeply welcomed.
It’s been a while since I’ve been present with this congregation, so I forgot that they do this a little bit differently. Rather than shake one hand, when people greet each other, they place both hands before each other — one person palms up, and the other, palms down. People clasp their hands before each other, look each other in the eye, and say those words.
“Peace be with you.”
And though this is different, it doesn’t feel forced. In this congregation, it feels so authentic. As a guest, not unknown but still relatively new, I felt so welcomed.
The feeling of welcome wasn’t ultimately in the method of greeting — the clasping hands in this way — but it was in the sincerity behind the words, as folks intended them specifically for the people in front of them. For somewhere between three and five minutes, I experienced this repeatedly, and it filled me.
Then when I walked back to the chancel, I heard, “Renee!” as an invitation to come over there for this greeting. It’s been a long while, maybe even a year, since I’ve been present in this congregation, but though a guest, I’m not a stranger either. The people in the choir greeted me too.
“We’re behind you today! Whether you know it or not!” someone said.
He wasn’t talking ultimately about location (nor was it a creepy, “We’re behiiiiiind you” — ha!) but instead, this was a play on words to say they’re cheering me on before the sermon. This too was so sincere and encouraging.
And then, without them knowing this is where I was going, my sermon was about welcome.
Well played, good and welcoming church.