We have being doing Teaching Masses at Christ Church this Lent and wherever I have done them they seem to go down really well. People forget what we were taught at Confirmation Classes, if indeed we were, and over the years we do things automatically without wondering why we are doing it. Yesterday I was thinking about exchanging The Peace. I do remember when it was introduced at my own church there was a rather well-dressed lady who always wore a hat and remained kneeling throughout it all with head bowed.
I was having a wee look through an old Lent book by David Wilbourne in which he has a chapter called ‘We’. In it he talks about sharing the Peace and it made me smile so I thought I’d share it with you.
Stories about the awkwardness of this practice are manifold. I heard of one venerable lady from a traditional church attending such a service with her daughter. As the Peace was shared, she complained loudly, ‘Anne, there’s a man at the other side who keeps on touching me!’
I also know of another church where the Peace was shared in a regimented fashion: the celebrant passed the Peace to the churchwardens, who then took a side of the nave each, duly passing it on to the person sitting at the end of each pew. Unfortunately one of the churchwardens was extremely unpopular, which meant that, as the congregation cottoned on to the pattern, her side of the nave tended to be devoid of people.
I heard of another deeply conservative church that annotated its new service books, writing over the section labelled ‘The Peace’, ‘There is no peace here.’ This could explain why a visiting celebrant at another deeply conservative church proclaimed, ‘The peace of the Lord be always with you. Each of you is now invited to exchange a frosty smile with your neighbour!’
My final example is a church in Liverpool, where the vicar and the congregation had fallen out. At the Peace he stood before them and said, ‘I cannot in all honesty share the Peace with you when we are so at variance with each other.’ He then sat down in his stall and wept.
I have noticed that in my churches which had no pews the Peace was passed rather vigorously and you really had to get round them all. They’d go wandering for hours if you let them! I’ve even been known to whistle or yell to get them back in their places. That’s why I think of them as ‘my little flock’.
In the early days of the Church it was a time to go around snogging one another. A real Kiss of Peace. Eek.