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
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
(Canon) Terry Palmer
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
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
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.
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.
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