I know I have said this many times, but I love the line from the movie Simon Birch when Simon challenges the pastor asking what “a continental breakfast” has to with God. I cringe at the pastor in the movie for many reasons, but I lament that there was not a teaching moment there. When I have shown this to my confirmation classes it always sparks the question of why that part of the service is important as well. Now, the simple answer is that fellowship is key to our worshipping time. But there is more to it than that.
Part of our call as Christians is to connect with other people. Today this becomes more and more important as the world seems to be getting less and less connected. I was reminded of this last Friday when I went to the movies and arrived a little too early, having been lucky with my other errands that day. A man was sitting on a bench with no one next to him so I asked if I could share the bench.
It was nice, and I did something I don’t normally do; I put away my phone and had a conversation. As we talked, we hit on the usual topics of movies, but at one point he was surprised that I was not “playing with my phone” as most people do, and I have to admit, much of the time I fall into that category. It was interesting as he questioned how much time is wasted, and more importantly, how superficial he has noticed people getting when their attention begins to focus on their phones over real relationships.
This is not a new idea. In fact, especially in the Bay Area, one of the new but still fringe movements is disconnected worship. Now that seems antithetical to who we are as a church until you realize that this disconnected worship has nothing to do with relationship; rather, it is disconnecting from the distractions, like cell phones, or even personal bias and striving to reach out to reconnect with the community that has gathered.
While this is new in some traditions, the idea of reconnecting with the community is and has been the center of reformed worship since the times of the reformation. The order of our service is set that way: The dispersed community Gathers; They prepare their hearts to Hear The Word; then they hear The Word; they respond to The Word; and then are sent into the world to spread The Word. As part of that, woven within all parts of the service are ways in which we are interconnected.
This is one of the reasons the passing of the peace is such an important part of our worship time. The Book of Order says that the passing of the peace is a time of reconciliation “as [we] (1) take opportunity to seek and to offer forgiveness for hurts, misunderstandings, and broken relationships among [ourselves]; (2) respond to God’s act of reconciliation by exchanging signs and words of reconciliation and of Christ’s peace.”
When we think about it within the order of worship, it is the last thing we need to do so that when we hear the Word we are able to hear it without the pretext of personal guilt, dealt with in the confession, or communal contention. The hope, of course, is that by the time we have finished the passing of the peace we can become contented with our relationship with one another and God. So when we come to the time of the passing of the peace, remember that there is a purpose for why we do it: while it is a time to socialize, it is a very important time to reach out to one another, forgiving wrong, accepting struggles, and celebrating friendships. It is about creating deeper relationships disconnecting from anything foreign and recognizing that the only connections we really need are that between God and one another.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen