The awkward part of the worship service

Not until I read Thom S. Rainer’s blog did I realize how contentious the greeting time in a worship service can be. In each service at Trinity CRC, after we receive God’s greeting, we take a few moments to greet and encourage one another. Usually we simply say “Good morning” or Mutual greetings at Parker Memorial Baptist Church, Anniston AL. Photo from The Anniston Star, found via Google“Nice to see you” to one another; occasionally we more formally pass the peace and say “The peace of Christ be with you,” extending God’s blessing to one another.

According to an informal survey, Dr. Rainer discovered that the mutual greeting time of worship is a big turnoff for people, particularly guests. Reasons for disliking it abound:

  • Some introverts would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a meet and greet time.
  • It exposes the hypocrisy of people who say “Hello” during the mutual greetings but ignore you any other time.
  • Shaking hands with someone who just wiped his nose with his hand is gross.
  • It feels awkward to be told to say something kind to random people around you.

Because this practice can be awkward at best and hypocritical at worst, Dr. Rainer proposes in a subsequent blog post alternatives to the time of mutual greetings including ending the service on time so people have time to chat afterwards if they so choose; putting friendly, extroverted people in key places; and deploying roving greeters.

Around the same time I read Dr. Rainer’s blog, I was reading A Primer on Christian Worship by William A. Dyrness, and – wouldn’t you knowA Primer on Christian Worship by William Dyrness it? – he devotes a paragraph to the practice of greeting one another in a worship service. Dr. Dyrness admits that he, too, sympathizes with those who find this part of the worship service distasteful. But then he takes a step back and observes something valuable in this moment of worship. In his words:

A part of me says, What hypocrisy! Why should I greet these people who I don’t know and who probably aren’t interested in greeting me? But each time I stretch out my hand to a stranger or hug a friend, something happens. I am reminded by [this] practice … of … the kind of people we are becoming in Christ. Whether I feel like meeting someone or not is irrelevant. Our life in Christ has this particular conciliatory shape to it. As a result, this is a community in which sharing and conciliation are core values, and, by the practices of worship, these values are being formed in me.

What I think I hear Dr. Dyrness saying is this: Even when it’s awkward or fake, we practice greeting one another so that we can get better at it which will make it more natural and authentic. We already are and yet still are becoming a community in Jesus Christ; greeting one another helps us work at getting it right even if we don’t at first succeed. In worship, we speak kindness and peace to one another so it becomes increasingly natural to do so, especially after the service is over and during the week.

I like to be sensitive to introverts (such as myself) who dread the mutual greetings. And I simultaneously hope I can convince them (and myself) that the tradition has merit: It gives us a moment to show in a practical way the love that the Holy Spirit is growing among us in Christ as we love and worship Him.

5 thoughts on “The awkward part of the worship service

  1. Corrie says:

    I never thought about it as a “practice makes perfect” practice.


  2. Carla says:

    There is a lot to think about here. I’d never consciously dwelt on this topic until your blog. In church today I consciously thought about what I was doing when greeting others. That made me think that some, possibly including myself, maybe had a hard time going to church that day, but went and the smiles and handshakes in a small part changed their life, as well as makes them feel accepted and loved in Christ. Wow!


  3. Stanley J. Groothof says:

    Thank you, Carla – I really appreciate you sharing that. I’m glad that part of the worship service has become more significant for you! ~Stanley


  4. S. Jodie Zimmerman says:

    Thank you, Stan. In the Catholic Church we too exchange the Sign of Peace. I’ve heard the same reactions especially the one regarding hypocrisy. Yet that’s why we gather because we’re all sinners and need the healing of Christ. And it is an expression of discipleship, of our Christianity in actually a very small way – relatively painless too. What’s our problem?


  5. SjG says:

    Thank you, Sister Jodie, for your thoughts. Yes, we indeed gather as hypocrites, each one of us. And each one of us needs healing. How beautiful when we begin to extend that to one another! ~Stanley


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