In the mid-1980’s “Passing the Peace” had been re-incorporated into Roman Catholic worship, but few Protestant congregations were engaged in the practice. I had taken a confirmation class to a Catholic service, noting commonalities with our liturgy, and they had appreciated the Passing of the Peace, asking why we did not do it, too, if it was an ancient tradition of the church. I took the idea to our worship committee, and the consensus was to begin to include Passing the Peace at different points in the service, with brief explanations of its purpose and history. This was done for the next three months before the congregation held its annual meeting.
Preparing for the congregational meeting in this place was always a challenge. The elected leaders knew that some members always made a controversy out of something, but could usually not predict what would be the issue at any given time. That year it turned out to be Passing the Peace. Some members demanded that any changes in the order or content of the worship service should always be presented to the whole congregation first, seemingly not aware of how cumbersome a requirement that would be. Several comments veered from the issue of Passing the Peace into other elements that should or should not be included in a worship service. Clearly no consensus was present, and it was, as usual, hard to stick to one topic of discussion.
Pro and con statements about Passing the Peace showed the usual divisions in the congregation. Those who advocated for the practice made statements about its celebration of forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual care, but some admitted that it seemed disruptive in the middle of the service, and less disruptive at the beginning or end of the service.
The climax of the discussion came when one of those who objected to Passing the Peace said that it would be a cold day in Hell before he would pass the peace with some of the people in this congregation. He chose to sit where he did to avoid sitting near certain other people, but he didn’t want to shake hands or greet anybody else that just happened to sit nearby. The fact that the six hundred members of this congregation were mostly related to each other could not hide the divisions in the extended family. They would not be healed by a ritual of Passing the Peace or by pulpit teaching about forgiveness.
The vote to exclude Passing the Peace failed, as did the vote for the congregation to pre-approve changes in the service. No one voiced objections to the president’s idea that the next months should include some exploration of the different parts of the ritual and their meanings, including Passing the Peace, so that became the temporary resolution. A fuller resolution would require passing through many more controversies and much more time before a real peace could be shared.