As part of my fitness regime, I go for a three mile walk two or three mornings a week. As I stride along the path I usually greet people with a cheerful ‘Good Morning’, and they normally respond with a ‘Good Morning’ too. This really embarrassed one of my grand-children who accompanied me one morning: “You don’t know these people, and so shouldn’t greet them”, he said. “True”, I replied, “but it makes most people feel better to be greeted in this way”.
At church we are also encouraged to greet people. Indeed, in the Anglican communion service ‘the Liturgy of the Sacrament’ begins with the sharing of the ‘Peace’. The minister declares, ‘The peace of the Lord be always with you’; to which the congregation responds, ‘And also with you’. Whereupon the minister says: ‘Let us offer one another a sign of peace’, and immediately the members of the congregation begin to greet one another. Many of course know one another, and are able to address one another by name; but many people don’t know one another, and yet they greet one another.
Within the context of a church community, I find it strange to greet people I do not know. Or rather, I find it strange to greet them without first discovering their name. As a result, I sometimes introduce myself and say ‘I am Paul; before I greet you please let me know your name’. But that seems to confuse many people: it is just not the ‘done’ thing within a service to ask somebody their name!
I also find it disconcerting to see the different ways in which people greet one another. Husbands and wives normally kiss one another, while everybody else gets a handshake. Although I feel obliged to kiss my wife (if I didn’t people might think we have just had a row), I don’t feel it right within the context of a communion service to distinguish between loved ones and others. At the Lord’s Table we are all meeting at the foot of the Cross, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We either literally take Paul’s instruction to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16.16; 1 Cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.23; 1 Thess 5.26: see also 1 Pet 5.14) and “give holy embraces all round” as Eugene Peterson expresses it in The Message; or we act like reserved Brits and shake hands. What we should not do is to make distinctions between our brothers and sisters.
But to return to my main point: however, we greet one another, we should surely greet one another by name. To greet one another by name is surely part of fulfilling Jesus’ command that we “love one another”. Just as the Good Shepherd calls us by name (see John 10.3), so too we should call one another by name. Calling a person by name is far more personal; it shows that they count; that they along with all the other members of the church are a ‘significant other’. Accompanying a handshake with a warm smile is not enough – it takes away meaning from the words of the Peace.
So what can I do in this situation? For me there is only one course of action, and that is to learn everybody’s name. That is quite a challenge, for we are still relatively new to the Cathedral where we are worshipping. There are hundreds of people who belong to the wider Cathedral community – and to complicate matters, as in any church, some do not attend every Sunday, but rather every other week, or every third week, if not once a month. And, of course, there are always newcomers.
The Cathedral offers little encouragement to learn people’s names. It is never suggested that we might learn ‘one name a Sunday’. Even some of the members of the clergy team seem not to know their people’s names. To make matters more difficulty, there is publicly available list of names of those who belong to the Cathedral community. Nonetheless, I am determined to get to know my new brothers and sisters. One way of getting to know people’s names is to stay on for coffee after the service. Another way has been to belong for a while to two fellowship groups. Most Sundays I attend Breakfast with the Bible, and that too has provided an opportunity to get to know more people.
There is, of course, yet another way of getting to learn people’s names, and that is inviting them to our home. I can’t pretend we have given hospitality to all 150 people on my list, but we have put on Christmas parties and other social occasions to which we have invited some of our new ‘friends’.
To help the process of remembering, on a Sunday I always carry around with me a number of index cards on which to write names and other information n I have gleaned. The moment I get home I open up my computer and add them to my list. There I now have over 150 names. For many I have their home addresses, their email addresses, and their telephone numbers. No longer being a pastor, I find I have to take my time to get to know details of that kind. On my list I also add names of children together with further comments to help me remember people e.g. ’keen photographer’, ‘vicar’s widow’, ‘soft-ware specialist’.
So now, after almost three years, find that I can greet more and more people by name when we share the Peace. It’s been hard graft – and there are still many more names to go. Yet my determination to get to know ‘one more name a Sunday’ is beginning to pay off.