Who do you greet at the Peace?

30th September 2019

“No one’s hugged me since my husband died. I miss the physical touch of another person. At the Peace, I see all you young things hugging each other, but no one touches anyone older like me. It’s painful.”

That cry from a widow changed how we exchanged the Peace in services at our Anglican church. We started teaching that whatever you did, you should do to all. Making a conscious decision to include everyone equally in the Peace, and being mindful of those on the margins of the congregation (literally or metaphorically), transformed everyone’s experience in services. A small change in practice completely changed our sense of coming together as a community of worship.

What is “sharing the Peace” all about?

Offering a sign of Peace to each other during a service usually comes at the point of absolution of sins, and before Communion/Eucharist/breaking of the bread. At the point when we’re about to partake of Christ’s body and blood, it’s a sign that we are united with others, and reunited with them, holding nothing against one another.

It’s an ancient practice and appears early in the liturgies of the church. The often-used Lamb of God prayer ends with “Give us your peace” because of the early Church’s practice of sharing the Peace after confession and absolution. It’s a practice of greeting each other as Christ greeted his disciples (John 14:27), setting aside anything you hold against a Christian brother or sister (Matthew 5:23-24), and unity of the Body (Galatians 3.28, 1 Corinthians 12:13). Exchanging the Peace fell out of practice after the early centuries of the church and was revived in the Anglican church during recent decades.

From handshakes to hugs

How Christians share the Peace – a handshake, a ‘holy kiss’, a hug – varies depending on denomination, church, individual preference and the relationship between the greeters. None of these gestures is superior to another. However, it’s good to be mindful of those members who might feel painfully excluded when others share hugs while they are missing out on much-needed physical touch. Churches may want to discuss what it would mean to greet others in the congregation in a more equal way, whether that means being more generous with hugs to people outside one’s own family and close friends (first checking that they are comfortable with being hugged, and that the exchange feels appropriate), or perhaps toning down the hugs with close friends and family when at church.

Including everyone in the Body

That story of the widow who felt left out during the Peace happened a long time ago. However, only this month, someone told Single Friendly Church how, during the sharing of the Peace at their church, all the spouses greet each other, their families and friends – and often single people are not greeted at all. They felt left out, excluded and not part of the congregation. 


What, we wondered, would it feel like if the requirement was to first offer the Peace to someone they didn’t know, or at least didn’t know well – and come last to their families? The thought is challenging. Spouse-first is the most common practice – although perhaps it’s more likely that reconciliation and forgiveness is needed within families! 

However, the act of offering the Peace is not only about reconciliation, as it is often presented and many liturgical prayers indicate – it’s also about everyone being included in the congregation about to receive Christ’s body and blood. Perhaps we should explain and emphasise more about the One Body that is about to receive the Body of Christ. 

Indeed, the original purpose was to signal that each person present was to be considered as part of your close family. That what was so shocking. An act, the ‘holy kiss’, normally reserved only for close family, was extended to all those present about to remember Christ’s death and resurrection. It was too intimate a gesture for many churches and fell out of practice after the early centuries. Its revival is perhaps more formal, but is still intended to recognise each other as fellow believers, part of the One Body.

The 42 different introductory prayers suggested in Church of England liturgy vary in their content, from individual peace to being among those present and those far off; and after being reconciled with God, then being reconciled with one another. There is, however, a strong strand through them all of being One Body, in unity with each other. The action of greeting one another, as Christ includes all those present, demonstrates this. However, in corporate acts of worship, we could consider whether we need to stress this aspect more: we come together as One Body to receive the gift of bread and wine. 

Here are three examples from the Church of England of opening words that can be used for the Peace: 

1. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,

since as members of one body you are called to peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you. (Colossians 3:15)


2. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

We belong to him through faith,

heirs of the promise of the Spirit of peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.


3. We are the body of Christ.

In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body.

Let us then pursue all that makes for peace

and builds up our common life.

The peace of the Lord be always with you. (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 14:19)

David Pullinger, 9 September 2019


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