At the end of each Vestry meeting and School Board of Trustees meeting we all stand, hold hands, and say the Lord’s Prayer. As you may have noticed, the altar party holds hands during the prayer that Jesus taught us. This week someone asked me this question, since our church, school, and liturgical leaders all hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer why can’t the congregation? I don’t have an answer. Perhaps one rationale is about the newcomer – what if they don’t want to hold a stranger’s hand on a first or second visit. Or maybe the church member doesn’t want to hold the hand of a stranger. These are all valid points against the practice.
Fortunately, Saint John’s is a hand-shaking and hugging community. I’ve been told time and time again from visitors to the church and our school Wednesday chapel service, that we are a warm and embracing worshiping community. Our community acts differently from what is taught at my seminary and probably most seminaries around the country – beware of touching! I had one professor/priest who said that he never hugs anyone, not at church, not at school. And it’s true, he gave everyone a handshake, even at graduation. He taught that we should refrain from such warm embraces. He does have a point; but there is a middle ground.
I’ve learned in pastoral experiences, which confirm what I learned in my studies, that people often yearn to be touched, especially those who have recently lost loved ones. Our Gospel lesson this Sunday highlights two different experiences with touch. A woman reached out her hand and touched Jesus’ clothes; she was healed. Jesus took a girl’s hand, while her parents were in the room, and made her well. Both of these healing experiences were based on faith and touch. So what if the new person at Saint John’s needs for someone to offer to hold hands and pray? Again, in modern parlance, I am clueless; I honestly have no answer as to how we can recognize if a person wants or needs their hand held. I can tell if a cat wants to be touched or not. But, humans cannot put their ears back or flick their tails as if to say, “Don’t touch me.”
I do know one thing, though. Just like a young Paul McCartney singing, “I wanna hold your hand,” Jesus wants to hold our hands, heal us, and give us peace. Strangers or not, Jesus is pining to hold hands. In regard to the question about why doesn’t the congregation hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, I still have no answer. I find it interesting, however, that the opening words of the prayer are, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” Something happens when our Vestry stands in a circle, holds hands, and says, “Our Father.” There is a feeling in the room and in our hands – it’s a Spirit of unity and peace.
So, why doesn’t the congregation hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? A better question might be why not?