By Carol Brown
I read recently that fear of the flu has led many churches to give up their tradition of handshakes as a way to "pass the peace" or greet one another at the end of the service. Bishop James M. Stanton, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, sent guidelines to the clergy in his congregations, outlining ways to slow the spread of sickness in their churches. He suggested that the passing of the peace "should be limited to the bowing of the head to one another or other forms of acknowledgment not involving physical contact of any kind." That makes me sad.
I know that the spread of the flu is a very real concern, but it still makes me sad. I am a hugger and a handshaker. I think that a smile accompanied by a warm handshake conveys care and concern for a person...and a hug is even better! To replace a handshake with a head bow just doesn't feel right.
Dr. Isaac Pugach, a primary-care physician in Lake Highlands, Texas, suggested that a namaste -- an Indian tradition of pressing palms together in front of the chest -- followed by a gentle bow might be a polite gesture until the flu outbreak subsides.
That makes me even sadder! I'm sure that a namaste conveys warmth and concern in some cultures, but at the end of the worship service at Highland Hills, it would just feel silly.
I'm glad that our tradition includes welcoming each other with a handshake and demonstrating our care for one another with a hug. But, during this flu season, I will try to remember that however we choose to express that care -- with a hug, a handshake, a head bow, or a namaste -- we know that at Highland Hills our care for each other is genuine and heartfelt. Go ahead and shake my hand after the service this Sunday -- I'm not afraid. Just don't be insulted if I reach for the hand sanitizer afterwards.