Put Your Hand in the Hand

Do they hold hands at your church? At mine they do.

In the past several years, people have started clasping hands during the Lord’s Prayer. They never did before – but let me give you a little background.

For years, my parish, St. Thomas in Delmar, was oppressively uptight. Mass was less a celebration than a sentence to an hour of tight-assed torture.

I would occasionally go to other places – like St. Vincent de Paul in Albany – and marvel at the inspiring atmosphere at mass. “Wow,” I’d say, “this is what Jesus must have had in mind!” Then, back at my church, I’d be subjected to the joyless, prison-like ordeal that did more to suck out your soul than uplift your spirit.

Then, several years ago, we got a new pastor, a no-nonsense guy who’d done his time at tough inner-city churches. He had little patience for the politics  inherent to our affluent suburban parish, and started making changes. That’s when people started leaving. It turns out that many congregants would rather drive elsewhere on Sunday than deal with a little change.

Our pastor’s latest terrible scheme? He’s rearranging the pews to create a more inviting atmosphere. You can’t imagine how angry people are about that. Heretic!

Back to hand-holding. Suddenly, it seemed people were unafraid to hold hands. For years folks have been doing this during the Lord’s Prayer, but never at our parish. It’s almost as if they thought they’d be yelled at or something, cowering at the raised fist of authority.

I’m ambivalent about the hand-holding. Personally, I could do without it, because it feels a bit artificial. I don’t really enjoy holding hands with strangers – but if it makes people feel good, who am I to complain?

But it’s good to see these changes. Could it be that a church based on humility is finally returning to its roots? Let’s hope so; the church had better embrace change or else we won’t have one.

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