that horrible church moment for us introverts when we have to….yuck…and what I learned about it today

I like 12 minute Episcopal homilies.

No time for fooling around. Just get to the point. And since that point can show up at any time, I have to be paying attention.

Paying attention to sermons is new for me. In the past my mind would often wander because my mind tends to do that during a 45 minute Sunday morning “sermon”/lecture/doctrinal beat down/look-at-how-much-I-know session.

In a way, I miss those days. I got some of my best writing ideas daydreaming. And those times when I was paying attention, long sermons allowed me to flex my judgmental muscles, thinking of all the ways that, if I were preaching on that verse, it would be so much better.

Don’t judge me too hard for that last part. I learned that in my seminary “how to preach” classes. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Listen to your classmate preach (badly) and then “evaluate” the sermon, which means rip it to shreds. It’s like asking wolves to “evaluate” that sheep over there tied to a post.

Where was I? Oh yes. I like Episcopal sermons because they are short and I pay attention–and that increases the possibility that I will learn something. Which happened today.

I learned why we do that thing every week that is so horrible for introverts: “exchanging the peace.”

My chest tightened just typing that. Can’t I just nod to you across the aisle (“We’re good, right”?). I mean, I never did anything to you? Why all the touching and eye contact and talking?

Today’s homily was on John 20:19-29, Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to his frightened disciples. I never made the connection before, but three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

“Peace” is not the absence of warfare or conflict. After the second “Peace be with you,” Jesus breathes on the disciples, which echoes the Adam story and the reviving of the “dry bones” in Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 37).

Breathing symbolizes the divine giving of life, of new life, one marked by the presence of resurrection. So when we exchange the peace before the Eucharist, we are acknowledging the reality of that new God-given life in ourselves and in others to which the Eucharist points.

I still don’t like doing it but at least I know what’s going on–and I can feel guilty about not liking it for the right reasons.


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  • Benjamin L. Corey

    My church would really make that chest tighten… I’m a cultural liaison for a Congolese church in my area, and each week they make visitors walk UP FRONT and introduce themselves, and then remain standing at the front while the worship team sings them a song. The first time I saw it I wanted to crawl under a chair, but it seems to work for their culture… still, when I see it, I’m soooo glad I’m not the visitor.

    • peteenns

      I’ve just crossed “visit a Congolese church” of my bucket list.

  • mhelbert

    It’s not just introverts. People who have suffered physical and emotional abuse can find the ‘giving of the peace’ a horrific trigger. That reason alone should make churches take pause.

    • peteenns

      Excellent point. We can also add those prone to social anxiety. If there are those who would rather not partake, there should be no social pressure to do so.

    • JL Schafer

      I haven’t suffered any real physical or emotional abuse. But I am bothered by exchanging peace because of its physicality. It reveals that I am not at ease with my own body and with the bodies of others.

      • touchmonster

        oh, you poor thing…Maybe we should change hundreds of years of tradition because YOU don’t like exchanging the peace. The church should take pause in everything they do because there may be some deep seating feeling from someone, somewhere in the word who had a bad experience.

        Maybe you need to man up or go find another church. I guess if someone feels uncomfortable with prayer, maybe we should not have that. I mean, who does the Pastor think he is, telling everyone to bow their head – that makes me feel uncomfortable. I mean what if someone had to bow when being beaten by an abusive relative.

        I wish you people could listen to yourselves.

        • JL Schafer

          I’m tempted to reply with something sarcastic, but I won’t. You really don’t know anything about me, my background, my beliefs or current church situation, and if you did, you would realize that your comment is completely irrelevant.

        • Jeff Miller

          First, JL Schafer never states in his/her comment that the church should cater to his/her whims, but rather is expressing how he/she feels about the custom (which is what this particular thread of the discussion is about).
          Secondly, you should be aware that your comments come across as terribly boorish and insensitive. If I correctly understand your point to be that people ought to overcome the things they struggle with and stop complaining about things that they dislike, perhaps you should lead by example by not flying off in a sarcastic tizzy when somebody annoys you by engaging in thoughtful, vulnerable dialogue about how a church practice strikes them.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Touchy much, touchmonster? Go have a drink . . my God

  • Bev Mitchell

    I’m mildly shocked. Not particularly extroverted, to me the “shake hands with your neighbour”, “exchanging the peace” or whatever is a truly beautiful part of the service. Maybe you guys need to spend some time in Mexico. There you get hugs on the street, in a Catholic church you get to say “La paz de Dios” to any number of strangers (and it’s possible that you may get a hug). In smaller, less formal churches (e.g. Baptist) you may have to introduce yourself to the whole congregation in Spanish (a deacon? did come by and ask privately if this would be OK.). I agree that people should not be forced to acknowledge strangers in some real way, but encouraging basic recognition among brothers and sisters in Christ who we may not yet know – surely that’s a very good thing.

    OTOH, the 12 minute homily sounds like a real blessing, and I like your description of a typical alternative.

    • JL Schafer

      I agree that it is a good thing. But it is still uncomfortable for some of us, for reasons we may not fully understand, which are not entirely explained by introversion.

  • Don Bryant

    As a Pastor I never had the courage to offer the 45″ service. Ronald Rolheiser points out in his book Holy Longing that the shorter service is actually mre helpful more true listening, rehearsing our touchstone truths, staying with a fixed liturgy. I This is what AA does. Do more than that and the extent of it begins to confuse and destabilize people doing recovery. Rolheiser is a RC priest, and I buy into what he is saying.

  • Don Bryant

    Did you notice Scot McKnight is now a deacon in the Episcopal church? From Anabaptist/ Willowcreek guy to Anglican! Ten or so years ago he tried to convince me not to do what he has now done. I didn’t feel back then and still don’t that I need the Evangelical pep rally to get to where I wanted to go. People like Scot represent the often unmentioned awareness on the part of so many of our leaders that we are serving up to parishioners a buffet that is choking them.

    • Rick

      He is now a deacon in an Anglican church. Not Episcopal.

      • Don Bryant


      • Howard Pepper

        In the U.S., is there an actual difference between the two? I realize there has been a U.S. split, but isn’t the older branch of “Episcopal” just the American name for Anglican? I’m honestly curious, not trying to nit-pick.

        • Rick

          Roughly speaking, there is the Anglican Church in North America, and PEAR in North America, that are their own Anglican identities (yet are now connected to each other). They are distinct and separate (= split) from the TEC.

        • Andrew Dowling

          From my understand both can and do use the word Anglican. But as Rick notes the “Anglican Church of North America” broke away from the Episcopal Church as a more conservative off-shoot.

    • wolfeevolution

      (Also, Scot’s still Anabaptist.)

  • Hallvard N. Jørgensen

    I like this post. Nice mix of personal and theological stuff.

  • David

    I am currently reading a very enlightening book on how the evangelical church makes it difficult for some of us introverts. if you think exchanging the peace in an episcopal/Anglican church is difficult try sitting in a three hour Pentecostal church service – one of of singing (including dancing, clapping, shouting, crying, hand waving, shaking etc) and another hour of preaching (complete with guilt-tripping, fear-mongering and shaming), 30- minutes of pray and another 30 minutes for an alter call. Now this refers of course to SOME (a significant ‘some’) evangelical churches.

  • Rick

    I used to belong to a church that regularly promoted the idea of everyone holding hands while praying (in youth department, small group settings, etc…). And they were not always real quick prayers. As an introvert I could barely focus on the prayer, other than hoping it would not last long.

    • Mark

      I should point out that being an introvert is not the same thing as being uncomfortable touching people.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Growing up Catholic we had passing of the peace but it was always the most informal, cold passing of peace one could imagine . . awkward glances to your neighbors, a brief handshake and maybe a closed mouth smile. It didn’t foster community at all. It lasted less than a minute.
    At the Methodist church I now attend, passing of the peace lasts a good 5 minutes or more. Some people stay where they are, and others move around to converse, hug, briefly catch up on things. It really fosters what church should be all about . . a COMMUNITY of believers. I think it’s beautiful. Coming from my previous background I was not comfortable with all of the interaction at first . . to be honest it kind of freaked me out. But gradually the walls crumbled.

    I understand some people are more introverted, and you can just stay where you are if you wish, but I do think there should be an environment that encourages authentic interaction and relationship building with your neighbors, even if you are shy.

    • Rick

      Introversion is not necessarily a “shy” thing. It generally means that such interactions are more draining. An introvert is then more re-energized by some time alone, whereas the extravert is more re-energized by being with people (but is drained when alone).

      • Andrew Dowling

        I understand that. Point being that during a service that lasts a little more than an hour, introverts should try to use some of their “people energy” at church, however limited.

  • Joykins

    When I was pregnant or a new parent, I would use the 45-minute sermon to get a power nap in. Now I’m in a church with 12 minute sermons and peace-passing, but as an introvert I don’t mind the peace-passing too much (though I wouldn’t say I really like it either) because it’s *scripted*.

    • wolfeevolution

      “When I was pregnant or a new parent, I would use the 45-minute sermon to get a power nap in.”

      Bwahaha…. and I thought I was the only one!

  • WonkishGuy

    I second that thought on the 12-minute sermon. I’ve recently made the same move from evangelicalism to a mainline church (and your books and blog posts have been very helpful). It’s very refreshing to hear sermons that focus on the main theological point instead of trying to defend every doctrine that is perceived as being under attack. I love your description of the 45-minute sermon and would add that “look at how much I know” is often “look at how much I know (even though it’s been rejected by mainstream scholarship for the past 50 years)”.

    I love the passing of the peace though: it’s a nice way to acknowledge people and I think it makes (non-introvert) newcomers feel welcome. Well, I guess everyone is different!

  • scott caulley

    I enjoy Annie Dillard’s story about the congregation that so despised “passing the peace” that the group fired its minister for trying to initiate the practice. Then there is the Garrison Keillor story about a church meeting where someone said “May the Force be with you,” to which several responded, “And also with you!” At “my” church (a free church congregation), it’s called “Hug a Neck” time. This is Kentucky, after all. scott caulley

    • WinnCollier

      Scott, do you recall where Annie wrote that story, I’d love to read it and don’t recall seeing it.

      • scott caulley

        I believe it is in “Holy the Firm,” but I can’t find my copy to confirm that. scott caulley

  • Barbara

    I’m an introvert, too, and don’t at all care for the whole “get-up-and-do-the-meet-and-greet-with-everybody-in-the-place” thing – so I don’t do that. However, I really enjoy wishing God’s peace to the people sitting near me; I find it to be quite a beautiful thing. And it’s a perfectly introvert thing to do, in fact, talking quietly with just a few people.

    Actually, I’ve become friendly with one person at a parish I attend occasionally; we now walk in processions together, when I go, just because we’ve wished each other Peace over the course of a few years.

  • ymryson

    I’m an introvert too, but the exchange of the peace doesn’t bother me, because it’s brief. No small talk. No, “so what do you do?” Just sincere smiles, “Peace be with you!” and then on with the rest of the service. For me, it’s the coffee hour after the service that’s hard.

  • Art Going

    A professor friend of mine explained the Peace “forgiving one another out loud,” leaning on the John 20 text. Of course, that presumes we leave it at “Peace be with you” or something else close to what Jesus said, instead of turning the moment into a quick catch-up on each other’s life or confusing it with a welcome.

  • Mike

    It’s takes 12 minutes to preach the Sermon on the Mount without our inspired commentary and exegesis, which makes 45-60 minutes sound like hubristic overkill. This, of course, doesn’t prevent me from doing it. Hubristic overkill is the essence of humanity. But perhaps it does speak to our lack of true inspiration. Love your posts. All of them.

  • Andrew Tatusko

    When I began worship in the Eastern Orthodox, all of that stuff was stripped out. Instead what I get is a chorus of unified voices experiencing a very individual kind of piety. It’s the same Liturgy with the freedom to experience it according to my own needs that day. And it’s more tactful not to interrupt me or anyone else while it is happening :)

  • Kim Fabricius

    As the disciple of Paul should have said (in the manner of I Timothy 1:15): “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, if you haven’t struck oil in 10 minutes, stop boring.” If you have struck oil in 10 minutes, you may proceed to extract it for another 10 minutes. Or as a Methodist minister advised me when I was just starting out: “Preach about God – and preach about 20 minutes.”

    The Sermon on the Mount is, of course, a Matthean compilation. But even if it weren’t, Jesus preached a lot shorter than that. His manifesto sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:21) clocks in at just a few seconds – 9 words (in the Greek).

    As for the Peace, blimey, introverts and fleshophobics, from the early Church Fathers we know of the practice of the “holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, etc.), the “kiss of peace”, shared at the Eucharist. But whether your shake hands or fully embrace, Peter’s point stands: we’re not talking here “How yah doin’?” or “Have a nice day!”, “we are acknowledging the reality of that new God-given life in ourselves and in others to which the Eucharist points.”

    Oh, and whether “you like it or not” has got nothing to do with it, because, well, worship as such is not about whether I like it or not. Go down that aisle and worship becomes utilitarian at best and narcissistic at worse. Worship is an offering, worship is a sacrifice. Get over yourself – and get into it.

  • James

    I read those very words this morning–awesome! “Exchange the peace” is much better than “Turn to your neighbor and say…(something smart or funny the preacher tells you to say).” Sermons get painful for me when they degenerate into comedy acts. I guess that’s comic relief or community building.

  • Tania Harris

    We get “Turn to the person next to you and tell them how good they look.” Believe me I’d rather exchange the peace any day even as an introvert!

  • rich00

    Your story of critiquing sermons reminds me of my days back in grad school when at our weekly group meetings we’d take turns ripping up whatever the headline science story of the day was. It really taught me to evaluate science critically.

    I have to confess that I’m not one for long sermons either. In almost any forum I shun audio/video presentations in favor of text. If somebody tells me to watch some lecture, I’ll always opt for the transcript if I can find one. Reading lets me appreciate the argument and think about it at my own pace. For articles of substance that may very well take longer than listening to a recital of it. For articles lacking substance, well, I appreciate being able to skim…

  • peteenns

    Correct. Let me instead “take” it off my list :-)

  • Guest

    Hehe pardon my pedantry lol. (sorry, it’s a disease …)