Returning to church and hugging etiquette

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Quite a lot of churches tend to be quite “Huggy” places.  Some of us have had  to learn to adapt to this if we are not among life’s natural huggers and in fact left to our own devices would tend towards the introvert. 

The etiquette of “greeting” and “hugging” post COVID is something I’ve frequently heard people express concerns about.  Some people will be instinctive huggers, optimistic and therefore not anxious about COVID transmission.  Some people will feel a need for a warm embrace after the isolation of lockdown.  Others would be happy to hug under normal circumstances but are anxious about hugging and some would prefer to keep a healthy amount of personal space at the best of times.

A few weeks back I heard  about an ingenious system for helping people get back to church and know the etiquette. People are offered a lanyard to wear, colour coded to give a traffic light system:

  • RED: I definitely do not want to hug
  • AMBER: I’m okay with hugging in some contexts (people I know)
  • GREEB: I’m more than happy to give and receive hugs.

Well, I say “ingenious”. However, with apologies to those who came up with it and those friends who have found it helpful, I’ve got to admit that I think it’s absolutely awful.  I suspect that those of us who aren’t naturally inclined to wear our feelings on our sleeves would fall into another category.  We would prefer not to be wearing lanyards.  Furthermore, I fear that the system could prove divisive and confusing.

And to be honest, it is somewhat over-complicating things isn’t it.  So I want to try and simplify things down to one basic rule here.

If you’ve not hugged someone outside of the church building in the last few months then it is probably a good idea not to run to hug them the first time you see them at church again.

What I mean by this is that greetings are best kept within the context of the actual relationships they represent if they are to be sincere.  A hug is  an indication of intimacy. If I know and care about someone enough to hug them, then surely I won’t have left it 18 months to see them.  If I’m running up to hug people at our first full gathering back together then I’m probably signalling another emotion, that of exuberant joy and excitement. That’s a brilliant emotion to feel on the way back to normal.  There are many other ways to display this.

So, rather than waiting until next Sunday to see people again and then rushing towards them with arms open only to be disappointed when you discover they are wearing a red or metaphorical red badge, why not try this. Think of someone who you haven’t seen for a while, particularly someone who might be anxious about going back to in person church.  Give them a call, knock on their door, meet up with them for a walk and see how they are doing. Maybe even ask them if they would like to come with you and sit with you on Sunday (even if it means you have to sit in the section where facemasks are required and no singing).

Let’s use COVID to encourage us to move beyond hugs to real, deep friendships.