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Was the Peace always chaotic?

by
30 January 2015

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When did the Peace become a chaotic, free-for-all intermission, and what can be done to apply some sanity to this part of the service of worship?

Clergy who were trained in the mid-1960s may remember the first time they exchanged the Peace, in their theological-college congregation. Ordinands were introduced to the liturgy of the Church of South India, and learnt that "the Peace is given before the offertory as a sign of fellowship, and the offertory sentences recall St Augustine's teaching that the sacrifice we offer is our unity in Christ" (CSI Book of Common Worship, Oxford, 1963). This new experience of greeting one another at the eucharist was awesome and profoundly meaningful.

When the Peace entered the public domain of parish worship, it was enthusiastically welcomed: the laity seized the opportunity to be involved in mutual greetings, and the practice slowly spread in the 1970s, especially after the publication of Series 3 in 1973, offering the Peace in words and action, and secured its place in the Alternative Service Book 1980.

This arrangement was carried over to Common Worship. Unfortunately, during the intervening years, the original meaning of the Peace was often forgotten, and the way in which it was shared left much to be desired. Insufficient rubrical and authoritative guidance may have been a factor in the decline in good practice. Congregations were left to their own devices, and offering the Peace tended to develop a "style" of its own - one that proved boisterous, inordinately prolonged, and disruptive.

Urgent measures will be needed to restore decency and order. Sound and patient teaching will help to recover the real meaning of this gesture, and explain how it should be made. It may help if a relevant notice is included in the weekly bulletin, to explain that it is the custom in that parish to extend the Peace only to one's immediate neighbours. Unless the congregation is very small (as, for instance, at a weekday eucharist), it may be helpful to reconsider whether anything is gained if everybody in the church tries to greet everybody else, or, by the same token, whether it might be preferable for the president not to move around, shaking hands with all and sundry - an impossible task that delays proceedings, and is better done at the church door at the end of the service.

Every effort deserves to be made to reclaim the Peace as a significant gesture that expresses mutual recognition of fellow members in the body of Christ, and is a sign of reconciliation offered in Christian love and joy, and must not be trivialised in inappropriate ways.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

 

The Peace didn't suddenly become chaotic. This has evolved over time. Those of us who grew up with the Prayer Book started life without it. Even in the ASB 1980 it was optional: section 31 states: "The president may say 'Let us offer one another a sign of peace' and all may exchange a sign of peace." I can, however, recall only one instance of attending an ASB or subsequent service in which s.31 was not invoked.

The questioner is correct that the Peace represents an intermission: it occurs at the point where the Liturgy of the Word finishes and the Liturgy of the Sacrament commences, and, as with Refreshment Sunday in Lent, we are none the worse for observing it.

The Peace comes in various flavours, from the restrained to the anarchic. It is the way each congregation expresses itself, and, when visiting for the first time, I find the Peace says a lot about the place.

I very much doubt the possibility - desirability, even - of trying to put this genie back in its bottle. If our questioner finds its conduct as distasteful as is implied, a change of worshipping environment may, however regretfully, be his or her most satisfactory option.

Paul Sandham
Hayling Island, Hampshire 

In the age of graduate professions, could not the full General Ordination Examination for the clergy of a few decades ago be converted into the degree of Bachelor of Theology, e.g. B.Th. Lambeth? P. N.

Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.

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