Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Peace at any price?

A good friend whose integrity and conscience I hold in high esteem has been distinctly "off" God lately and blogged recently on the impossibility of offering the Peace honestly while struggling with a particular relationship at work..For her this had become such a huge issue that it dominated the entire service in a thoroughly unhelpful way. It struck me as distinctly ironic that she, while claiming no Christian allegiance at present, is so much more scrupulous about the need to be "in love and charity with her neighbour" than too many who approach Communion with no qualms (though I guess if we waited to be ready to receive...yes, well, let's not go there....)
On her blog, this sparked the sort of "Peace or not discussion" which seems inevitable in most churches from time to time...so I thought, why not? Let's give it another airing.

So here are a few reasons why I am largely in favour of the Peace...

1) because it CAN and SHOULD be an opportunity to heal broken relationships before receiving Communion...and is good theology, obedient to Jesus's command (Matt 5 22-25) (...make the most of that, it's not often you'll catch me actually quoting Scripture ;-) )

2)because it can break down barriers between groups and individuals in the church family...when we first moved to our previous house, we knew nobody in the village, but the children adopted 2 quite excellent honorary grandparents by dint of moving in on them during the Peace and somehow never quite leaving.

3)because (to repeat my comments on that blog) it can provide a bit of human contact for otherwise lonely and untouched souls

All of this only holds good if you are actually attempting to match deeds with thoughts...to go through the motions while harbouring murderous intentions is clearly never a good idea. I do recognise as well how the Peace can also work against community, isolating those who are not "in the know" still further...it is so awful when you visit a church and find yourself politely shaking the hands nearest to you while all around others are flinging their arms around their dearest friends whom they've clearly not seen since...ooh...at least last Sunday!
By nature a touchy feely type, I'm mindful too of those for whom such contact is deeply uncomfortable..the sheer embarassment factor can be huge, I'm certain.

But, despite all this, to remove the rite from the liturgy would seem to me to imply that it is possible for the Body of Christ to operate as though were simply a group of disparate individuals, as if our worship as community did not in fact matter. I think we need the discomfort, the long hard looks at our relationships, even perhaps the occasional embarassment along the way. Sorry Mrs Beamish, but your day is not yet!


Dave said...

This post arose because, at least in part, because I disagreed with you on the blog in question. It would be churlish of me not to follow up this opportunity to respond. Actually, I agree with lost of what you say; it’s the matching of deeds and thoughts where it actually falls down, most of the time, I believe.

Fred Belcher (1) suggests that the Peace confirms outwardly the unity of the people of God (although stories of people, known to dislike each other, sharing the Peace, may in fact discredit such an interpretation). It stresses the truth that the Church is the body of Christ with each member alive to their uniqueness and that of those with whom they exchange the Peace.

Belcher claims that it guards against individualism and that it helps to break down barriers between one member of the Church and another. Experience shows, however, that it can also create the very barriers that its exponents claim it removes. It is claimed to break the ice with those who are shy - but it can simultaneously be a time for the reserved to retreat further, or to attempt to avoid contact.

Of course, this idea of being involved with the other members of the congregation has not always been thought to be so important. Bishop William Walsham How in his communion manual (2) attempts to provide prayers and other meditations to fill the attention of the individual during every part of the service; indeed he specifically warns "Above all take care that you do not look about you, or watch others going to, or returning from, the Holy Table".

Worship does not always have to be corporate (look at the number of hymns – particularly written by Charles Wesley, but also modern material – written in the first person).

It is in some circles also attested as an outward sign of fellowship and affection, particularly to those in isolation and loneliness (the human needs to speak and to be spoken to, to touch and to be touched being used in explanation). It can of course, be abused – I have seen lonely single men making a bee-line to hug all the pretty girls in the congregation; it may be meeting a need they have in their loneliness, but only by abusing others.

If we took it seriously – and sadly I suspect most people do not; it is just a liturgical action we do by rote – then it could and should be a very practical reminder to a congregation that we must be reconciled with each other in Christ (and I have seen it used for this purpose outside the Eucharistic service, where perhaps, because it wasn’t expected, it had more force).

1. Fred Belcher, A Time to Celebrate (Churchman Publishing 1989), p.64.
2. Taken from W. Walsham How, D.D., Holy Communion, Preparation and Companion (SPCK 1893), p.65. Harrison and Sansom, in Worship in the Church of England (SPCK 1982), p.128 state that How "repeatedly enjoins the worshipper to ignore the rest of the congregation".

Grumbling At God said...

Kathryn thanks you have encapsulated many of the salient points - if not all of them - plus you said it better than me.

I have happy memories of the peace in the group hug style although that no longer feels appropriate (nor have I been in such a setting for a long time).

Goodinparts (aka Kathryn) recently blogged about how a nasty man ignored her at the peace as she was a female priest.

A sadly complex subject.

DaveF said...

Ban "the peace" because of inappropriate hugs? Let's chop everyones arms (and other bits) off to be on the safe side ;-)
Some of us do just shake hands!

"All of this only holds good if you are actually attempting to match deeds with thoughts" - which bit of church doesn't?

Who says the Good Samaritan didn't want to kick the smug, racist git of a Jew? Maybe he did and maybe he didn't want to - what we know is he didn't, he helped him. I believe passing the peace has a value even through clenched teeth (of course you have to mean it even if you don't want to but sometimes actions have to lead meanings).

Kathryn said...

How extraordinary! I'd got so immersed in the theory of the thing that I had totally failed to recall that guy who had such problems with my gender...Ah well...clearly his lack of grace on that occasion had no huge impact,which is a blessing in itself

Mark said...

For me, Dom Gregory Dix's passage on the peace in The Shape of the Liturgy still resonates from when I first read it. He describes what it might have been like for an early, persecuted church community, breaking bread in secret, to share the peace when dependent upon one another not to betray the group to the authorities. You share the peace because you depend on the other for your very life. How to recover that understanding in our context?

Tom Allen said...

I suppose over many years - and given who I am years of experience of sharing the peace with people who I have upset or been upset by - I have come to see The Peace as a much more corporate act concerned with divine possibilities than with human self-repatriation. Indeed while I welcome the "sharing of the peace" it has tended to add pastoral difficulties and blur the real meaning and "individualise" a corporate act.

So as a priest I have learnt it is pastorally inappropriate to "require" anyone at any particular time "to make peace" within The Peace - so even if people avoid each or share it apparently insincerely - that did not invalidate the action cos God can work and challenge us both through our action or inaction. So I would prefer to stick with "it can be an opportunity" and add the hope in God's good time that " it will be"

We need constantly to remind ourselves that we are sharing Christ's peace not our own meagre human peace. So I have found myself saying to people - well at least offer it even if that is not quite where your heart is at the moment - but equally understanding when people find that impossible especially if they happen to British and male.

I'm struggling with the words - but tend to feel its a bit like people feeling they can't say the creed because they don't agree/understand all of it. But say it anyway cos that's what the Church believes

Kathryn said...

Thank you for that, Tom. I found it really helpful,- much too often we behave as if it is, as you say, our own human peace that we are trying to express. I suspect that bearing your words in mind may make all the difference for me at least, when I'm struggling.