At my parish they have renamed the narthex of the church as the “fellowship hall”. This novus nomenclature is intended to encourage parishioners, when leaving after mass, to engage each other on a personal level (e.g., smiling, hugging, and conversing) in some place other than the nave of the church. I think this is a very good idea as we all know how important fellowship is to the Christian experience.
I go out the side door.
The parish I grew up in was a keep-your-head-facing-forward and mind-your-own-business kind of place and that suited me just fine. We shared the same faith and for one hour on Sundays, we shared the same air; that was enough. These days, however, I am surrounded by people who want to talk to me, touch me, and engage me on a personal level. This is not the Catholicism I signed up for.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I miss the swine flu. Of course I don’t want anyone to be ill—I had the swine flu after all—but I sure preferred it when people were afraid of getting ill. For a few months the Church of my youth was back. I was able to keep my distance from my fellow Christians without fear that they would immediately and rightly conclude that I am anti-social. This glorious era of swine flu had its most wonderful effect during the dreaded and woefully misnamed “sign of peace.”
Typically during weekday masses I have to employ the three pew rule. This rule states that when possible, I must maintain a minimum three empty-pew buffer zone between me and the nearest other mass-goer. An addendum to the rule states that if another mass-goer looks overly friendly (e.g., eye contact, excessive smiling, etc.), a four pew distance should be maintained. With the proper distance attained, the sign of peace requires only a quick wave. The others think “Oh he seems friendly and I am sure that he would shake my hand or even hug me if he wasn’t so far away.”
But when fear of the swine flu was everywhere I could shorten that distance to two pews, and even on a few occasions only one pew, and people understood when I chose to only give the wave. They likely thought, “Oh that was a polite and friendly wave. His reticence to shake hands is very prudent given the risk of disease, so not only is he friendly and handsome, but wise as well.”
Okay, I just threw in the handsome part, but you get my drift. Swine flu allowed me to fellowship in my own anti-social and non-fellowshippy way. But now that the fear of the flu is gone, I am forced back into exile.
Now before anyone points out that the “sign of peace” is an ancient Christian practice and is not simply the invention of that generation of huggers who dominated the seventies, I answer “fine”. I will stipulate to the fact that the “sign of peace” is an ancient Christian practice. Fine. Good. Getting eaten by lions was an ancient Christian practice too and I don’t want to do that either.
So I guess the way I formulate my position is that while personally I accept my Church’s teaching on the sign of peace, that should not impact how I choose to live my life. I have the right to choose…
I guess I will be shaking hands and coming and going through the front door from now on. One quick question though. Is it considered bad form in the fellowship world to wear latex gloves? No reason, I am just asking.