I’m new to the Anglican church.
Although I grew up in a “high church” setting (hymn- & organ-based music, use of liturgy, corporate prayers, etc.), each denomination has its own particulars…as well as its own vocabulary.
Vicar. Rector. Curate. Priest in charge. Reader. Deacon. Diocese. Benefice. Parish. I don’t think I’m very much closer to sorting them all out now compared to a year ago when I first began to attend.
Sitting with our Rector the other day, he was trying to explain some of the differences to me, and I noted that there were a few activities that only ordained Priests/Vicars/Rectors could perform as part of the corporate worship service. Leading the Eucharist (Communion, the Lord’s Supper) was one of them–which I expected.
But there was another one that caught me off guard.
During each service, the Priest speaks a blessing of peace over the congregation, which usually includes the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” To which we reply, “And also with you.”
Some people might take umbrage to the idea that ordained clergy appear to have a monopoly on speaking blessings of peace on people. But I don’t think that’s the intent.
Rather, there is an acknowledgement that speaking blessings is a sacred act, an important rite, a powerful engagement. In the same way that we don’t offer communion wafers at movie theaters (unless of course you attend one of those churches that meets in a movie theater), we don’t cast around the blessing of God’s peace either. Rather, it is with intentionality that we offer and receive this blessing.
The Bible talks about Jesus sending people out to do ministry in various communities, and one of the main activities they are to engage in is to speak peace upon arriving at a house. If the residents are welcoming, the blessing of peace remains; but if they reject the ministers, their blessing “returns to them.” After that, they might eventually leave the town, wiping off the dust from their feet as a token of their unwelcome.
Peculiar–their peace returns to them when it is not received. Apparently, Jesus saw the speaking of peace as a very significant activity, a way to tell something fairly instantly about those that you might encounter. Do they welcome a greeting of peace, or do they rebuff it? Do they accept those who “come in peace,” or do they ignore?
Peace is significant, and one of the ways that the Anglican church seems to capture that is by restricting the speaking of this blessing to those who have had some formal training, some ordination as being a proper leader in the Faith.
This doesn’t discourage me from desiring to bless others…I don’t feel it’s taboo for me since I’m not an ordained clergyman. But it does cause me to consider the gravity of the words I might share with others.
We might all benefit from speaking words of peace to one another, but it goes far beyond the throwing up of two fingers in that all-too-familiar “peace sign.” It goes beyond t-shirt slogans like, “Make peace, not war.” And it even goes beyond catchy jingles that ask us to “give peace a chance.”
Far more profoundly, we can look someone in the eye and speak peace to them, uttering words of divine blessing as we ask our heavenly Father to impart to them something that often doesn’t make sense, is far beyond human understanding, and yet so very tell-tale and vital.
During the worship service, after the Rector speaks the words of peace to us, he then invites us to share a sign of God’s peace with those around us. For me, that’s a kiss for my wife and a handshake to everyone within arm’s length…as well as to several who are even beyond my reach! It’s proof that the church isn’t just reinforcing some elitist hierarchy by limiting the speaking of peace to a priestly duty. Rather, he leads us–as a shepherd should–and then empowers us to speak peace to those around us.
Amen. Let it be so.