A member of one of our congregations was embraced so enthusiastically during the exchange of the Peace at a recent Sunday service that she had a rib broken. She suffers from osteoporosis (literally ‘bone porousness’, medically ‘reduction in bone density’) and apparently the snap was audible.
A recent tripping accident at this church got into its ‘accident book’ and thus on to the agenda of its District Church Council for a ‘lessons learnt review’ which has resulted in the marking of a dangerous edge and the provision of a torch by the south door so that those entering in the dark have light by which to find their way to where the light switches are located. All simply following good practice guidelines. So I ought to make sure we don’t allow the implications of this incident to slip and follow a similar procedure again.
I’m not sure where that will take us as it means engaging with an odd situation the Church of England has found itself in – a habit embedded over perhaps forty years of treating the exchange of the Peace as an assertion of human fellowship (often represented by a determination to greet everyone present and to engage some of them in extensive conversation) rather than a symbolic passing of the touch of the peace coming from God.
What I do feel (much later in the year than usual) is a Christmas sermon coming on. The Prince of Peace did not embrace our fragility with force but comes almost imperceptibly alongside it. It is the ‘wise’ men who blunder in thinking they’ve discovered an alternative seat of power and human strength thus unknowingly provoking the slaughter of the innocent and flight into Egypt.
Perhaps it is having joined the members of the local Hope for Justice group for their Christmas meal last night – six people from five Anglican, Catholic and Methodist churches and from the Harbour Place Day Centre who have raised significant money for projects tackling human trafficking and modern slavery and quietly engage those able to keep this a priority in local policing.
Perhaps it is being reminded that Harbour Place’s Mission Statement says it ‘aims to serve those who may be considered vulnerable or socially excluded within the community through actions which promote positive choices in people’s lives’ which is probably as good a greeting of Peace as one could get and certainly one which doesn’t propose hugging so tightly that damage might be done.
The ship on the rough sea is on the Churchwardens’ staves in St Nicolas’ (and reflect St Nicolas’ role among the patron saints of seafarers and perhaps of those being trafficked).