Be safe: bring back the Kiss of Peace
These days, lots of people are scrutinizing their liturgical practices to make sure people are safe from needless risk of disease and infection. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read of some other whacky liturgical change. I haven’t yet encountered the idea that the lectern Bible be encased in antimicrobial plastic, but I’m sure that’s coming. But I digress.
Many of the changes are rooted in fear, not in a reasoned analysis of risk versus benefit. I alternate between anger and pity every time I read about a church that has suspended the common cup in communion out of fear (see this paper or this blog post to learn more). I am a little sad when I read that the Peace has been omitted. Well, here’s some fact-based good news. You can have the Peace with increased safety. And at the same time, you can be returning to the ancient practice of the church! It’s time for the Kiss of Peace!
Researchers in London report that it’s safer to give a kiss on the cheek than it is to shake hands. That’s just the way things were done back in the day! And, just like then, modesty is important now — to avoid sin (i.e. sex cooties) and to avoid infection. The researchers warn “people to observe proper etiquette by kissing others on the cheek instead of the lips and to avoid touching the person being kissed except on the shoulder or the upper arms.” Safe church!
Here in the U S of A, you’ll probably want to give one peck on one cheek. Any more than that, and you’ll seem overly eager. If you’re visiting other provinces of the Anglican Communion, the Times Online has a guide to how many pecks on which cheeks. We certainly don’t want to contribute further scandal to the Anglican Communion!
Seriously, this is an interesting case. In this potential change of practice, our desire to avoid any intimacy (Americans mostly don’t kiss strangers!) will run smack (ahem!) into our love of fear, in all its forms. If I shake hands, I might get sick! But if I kiss that person, I might get cooties! I predict most parishes will persist with elbow bumps, waves, and awkward nods — epidemiology and liturgical tradition be damned.