Like most congregations throughout the world, while the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, Maryville’s Highland Presbyterian Church has closed its doors for Sunday worship and other activities.

But its Session, or governing board of elders, has asked parishioners to continue a custom that they seem to cherish, the Passing of the Peace. No longer may congregants actually shake hands, hug, or touch one another, repeating with a smile the words of Jesus, “Peace be with you!” (Luke 24:36). Yet the elders urge them, remembering the ones with whom they once shared pews, to phone, text or email each at least once a week, to bid the same.

The ancient Christian “Kiss of Peace,” dates from the earliest days of the faith, centered in Mediterranean lands. Meeting weekly in homes on Saturday evenings, believers prayed, read scripture, celebrated Eucharist or Communion and kissed one another as a sign of unity.

Yet over the centuries, at least in more socially reserved northern Europe, the British Isles and North America, this gesture in worship waned. Even among Roman Catholics in those lands it tended to become a perfunctory greeting between priest and deacon or assistant.

With widespread liturgical renewal during the past 60 years, however, the Peace sprang to new life among most classical Christian denominations. Not all congregants appreciated it. Dr. Dwyn Mounger, transitional pastor of Highland Church, remembers a disgruntled friend showing up for worship in his Georgia parish decades ago. “That surprised me; he was a cradle Episcopalian.”

“I’m not goin’ back,” the friend exclaimed, “till they stop passin’ the peas!”

For now, Highland members, as they non-visually, non-physically, share the Peace, will also ask about the needs of each other and try to meet them, while observing “safe-distancing.” The weekly Sunday liturgies and both a video and manuscript of the sermons will be posted on the congregation’s website.

Highland Church is located at 721 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, across from Maryville College campus. For more information telephone 865-982-9272 or visit www.highlandpresby.org.

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