"Many of us, however, flinch at 'the peace'. It spoils the privacy and dignity of worship, and we dread it like the ... of the ... drill." -- Letter to "The London ... Recently I've
"Many of us, however, flinch at 'the peace'. It spoils the privacy and dignity of worship, and we dread it like the onslaught of the dentist's drill." -- Letter to "The London Telegraph"
Recently I've had some interesting conversations with an introvert in the Midwest whose minister tries to grab him and hug him on the way out of church every Sunday and I got to thinking ... how prevalent is this situation? Has the recent trend toward hugging in American churches destroyed the experience of community worship for the typical introvert?
This is not an article about faith or God, or really even about booty, the humorous title. It's an article about introverts and how we relate to others in social situations. Does your church or place of worship call itself "the hugging church"? Are you "invited" to stand up and turn around half way through the service to share "the peace" with people you don't know?
My Midwestern friend has decided to speak bluntly to his minister and tell him to keep his hands to himself. I wonder that he hasn't considered changing churches. Few take offence at a soft handshake or nod, but even so, a polite "no thank you" will also suffice.
This uninvited touchy-feely stuff is not pleasing to an introvert and it's not that we're "cold" or "strange". Not at all. What we are is territorial. We're as territorial about our bodies and our body space as we are about our physical and emotional space. It's one of our strongest characteristics. If you want to know for sure whether or not you're an introvert, ask yourself one of these two questions, "Do people exhaust me?" and/or " How would I feel if someone sat down at my desk and started checking their email?"
It's our right as introverts to be territorial. We are a legitimate personality type.
Here are some comments from parishioners of churches of various denominations on this topic. As you read these statements, pay attention to how you feel.
Remember, it's OK not to like hugging or "glad-handing" as my introverted grandfather used to call it disdainfully. This doesn't make you a bad person.
COMMENTS FROM PARISHIONERS Meta Minton, editor of "The Southern Illinoisan": "On occasion, I attend a local, holly roller, hallelujah screaming, speaking in tongues, praying until you pass out, Pentecostal church. The congregation there is very warm and loving. Any service you attend, it is guaranteed that you will get hugged by everyone at least once."
Anonymous: "We've witnessed a trend in which the new, contemporary churches -- where video screens and guitars are the norm -- seem to be bursting at the seams. The parking lots at those churches don't seem to be large enough for all those flocking in to hear the message. At the other end of the spectrum, many of the more traditional churches have slowly seen their numbers slide. Churches must change or they'll die...."
From "The London Telegraph": "What is troubling is the practice of some members of the congregation of approaching the event with more gusto. These hearties do double hand-shakes like boxers at the start of a bout. Wearing moony smiles and saying 'the peace' with soppy sincerity, they leap the nave to greet strangers with full-bosomed embraces, sometimes even rendering the victim breathless for several moments. 'Turn around and say hello to one another,' would be the standard invitation from the platform, at which point arms would be flung around anyone and everyone, whether they looked like they wanted a hug or not."
Pastor Bob of Xxx Church in Michigan: "The church is a place for hugging. I see it on Sunday mornings during our time of fellowship. I see hugging in the Gold Room during coffee time. Our church is a good hugging church. In baseball, they have a DH - a designated hitter who bats instead of the pitcher. At our church, we also have a DH - a designated hugger. I don't think she's even 5 feet tall, but this little dynamo, otherwise known as Xxx, is our DH. She hugs everyone with a smile on her face and love in her heart. "Bend over, Darlin', and give me a hug."
From "The London Telegraph": Mr. Moore, in his guise as a modern British Episcopalian, may be prepared to tolerate such assaults. Many of us, however, flinch at "the peace". It spoils the privacy and dignity of worship, and we dread it like the onslaught of the dentist's drill."
Deb Matthews in "True Christian Stories": "There was just one problem with the church! At the end of the song services, the pastor would always tell the congregation, 'Turn around and shake hands with someone, or if you're a woman, give another woman a hug.' Most of the time, I would just shake hands with the people around me, or a woman next to me might just put her arm around my shoulder and give me a gentle sideways hug. But there was this one woman that went all over the place giving these big bear hugs to everyone, man or woman. I got to where I would check out where she was sitting and make sure I was a long way away from her. But it didn't seem to matter where I sat -- she still seemed to end up over where I was and give me one of those smothering hugs. The church was great except for all that hugging business." [she goes on to explain how she "overcame" her dread of being hugged !]
IT'S NOT JUST THE HUGGING
It's not just the hugging. Merilee recently visited a friend in Alabama and was taken to a Sunday service. There was a huge video screen in the front of the room which scrolled the lyrics to the hymns, members of the congregation got up to get coffee or cold drinks whenever they wanted, there was a live band with guitar, saxophone and keyboard, and an elaborate sound system. Merilee is an infp introvert and she said it was a bombardment of sounds, lights and people which kept her separated from any sense of the spiritual. The children were elaborately dressed in expensive Victorian era clothing and, although truly adorable, their presence in the service was also a distraction to Merilee's sense of the divine.
Elle explains in her GARDEN BLOG, "When I got to the church, opened the door and saw the room full of unknown people, I remembered my usual madness. I froze. I stood at the door, surveyed the room and was overwhelmed. These were my initial observations. It was loud. Way too loud. There was singing, shouting and dancing and I made a mental note to pinch Xxx for not getting me there and seated before the hoopla began. This was a small room and a small congregation. There were musicians, a few people (not enough to be called a choir) singing and I was instantly uncomfortable. Not that I have a problem with praise and worship, but my few experiences with church have been very different. Usually there's a very quiet service where people give 'talks'and a choir sings a celestial rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers. This was not that."
Here are critiques of three churches in Maryland by someone who identifies himself only as "Bob". I have taken out all references to denomination so, exclusively on the basis of the form of the service, which of these churches would you like to go to?
Church 1 Excellent musical accompaniment to the service was performed by a choir of 12 men, percussion, electronic keyboard, saxophone and guitar. This first class entertainment was applauded during the service and some songs got deserved standing ovations. Hugging happy greeter. Church started late because of talking and socializing. Laughter and applause joined the energetic sermon.
Church 2 Mostly older adults. Some local families. College students. This is the church for Xxx College. Wooden pews. Small choir. Everyone sings. Flute and piano. Quiet. Everyone is attentive. Impromptu humor. No pressure to join. Educational lecture as part of service.
Church 3 The ritual to follow and the hymns to sing are printed in the handout for everyone to easily participate. All hymns from the 18th century. Folding chairs. Mostly adults. Individuals. No hand shaking during service. Easy to hear. Visitor may remain anonymous.
If you picked #2 of #3, chances are you're an introvert.
Despite the humorous title of this article, excessive friendliness during worship seems contrived and uncomfortable to many introverts and may be keeping us away from communal worship in droves. If this is the case with you, I encourage you to look further afield until you find a temple, church or synagogue that hnors the intoverted way! And don't forget to be heard. We have a voice and it's a legitimate one. How will they know if we don't tell them?