In many fundamentalist churches somewhere between “Good Morning Everybody!” and “Please Stand out of Respect For the Word of God” lies a phenomenon known as Â the “Right-Hand of Christian Fellowship.”
Although it’s more common in the Bible Belt, it has been observed as far north as the frozen chosen of New England and out in the Midwest as well. The Bible Belt version involves more spit, slobber, and little old lady hugs. The Northern version involves more nodding and friendly grunting. But whatever the execution, the basic formula is the same…
The song leader intones “While the piano plays that last verse one more time, let’s all shake hands with our neighbor and greet our guests!”
Pandemonium ensues as people begin turning around and greeting people around them with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Jonah The Eager Preacher Boy runs from his spot in the front pew up to the platform to be the first one to shake the pastor’s hand. The pastor sees it coming and braces for impact. Handshaking over, Jonah runs for the back to find the Youth Pastor and repeat.
Mr. Jackson The Hairy-Armed Mechanic who smells of equal parts motor oil and Old Spice tramps through the rows doling out painful squeezes and cheery hellos to all in his path. Knuckles can be heard cracking from afar.
Mrs. Â Sterlingson The Widow stuffs her slightly used handkerchief in her sleeve, Â sniffs with vigor and latches a moist hand on to any one who comes near. The wary and fleet of foot escape untouched. Others meet a less kind fate and glance about for the hand sanitizer.
The piano player finishes the verse and first time and knowingly keeps on playing without even looking at the music. Â She breathes a silent prayer of thanks for the chance to keep her hands germ free.
Somewhere in the third row a couple of teenage boys with sweaty palms take this one opportunity per week to briefly touch the hand of a real live girl. It’s awkward, nerve wracking, and joy unspeakable. Â The stuff of chaste daydreams and scribbled prayer journals.
“Lets all return to our seats and sing that chorus one more time” bawls the song leader over the din. The pianist hits the intro chords fortissimo and people get in their last words, smiles, and moments of avuncular fondling before jogging back to their places.
The Passing Of the…er…The Right-Hand of Christian Fellowship is complete for another week.
Please pass the wet wipes.
70 thoughts on “The “Right Hand of Christian Fellowship””
@Private I: I can’t recommend Introverts in the Church highly enough. EXCELLENT book.
I go to a non-denominational church now and have been for over 2 years. We still shake hands and (now) pray with each other before and after the pastor gets into the Word. I’m still for greeting other people in the church, just not during worship. Having the song service interrupted on end with the whole “Turn to your neighbor” instructions just slowed things down for me.
I absolutely abhore that part of an IFB service! Yuck. It is so fake. And especially un called for during flu season. 🙄
It’s especially awful when the handshake is cold and sweaty and grainy and you can’t go wash or sanitize your hands inconspicuously. 😡
Many churches from the mouth of the Whore of Babylon (aka Roman Catholic parishes) have done away with the “handshake of peace”. The Latin Mass types never handshake in the pews. Rather, the Latin Mass clergy do this “headbutting” move where two priests place their hands on each others’ shoulders and alternate bowing their heads towards the priest’s opposing shoulder. Hard to describe — youtube “Solemn Mass”. I’m waiting for two priests to smack their heads, but so far it’s never happened.
I’m not a handshake fan. If I happen to be in church and it’s “handshake of peace” time, I just look straight down at my shoes. Don’t care if that’s antisocial. If I have to shake, it’s Purell time right afterwards for sure.
Slightly off topic . . . what is up with churches who announce with great solemnity exactly how a new member is coming to the church? The churches around here (NJ/DE/PA) always announce, “This is so-and-so joining our church membership. They are coming to us by . . . ” either experience, baptism, or transfer of membership. Experience means you’re saved, but you either weren’t going to church or you were going to non-Biblical one. Baptism means you must have just gotten saved! Woo-hoo! And then there’s the transfer of letter. I’ve often wondered how many letters of transfer get opened in the various church offices around here every Tuesday morning (because most of them are closed on Mondays). Why is it necessary to proclaim exactly how someone is joining the new church? What’s the point? And what’s the big deal with sending a letter to transfer membership? Hasn’t the old church realized that some of their members aren’t there any more? Of course, after the membership announcement is made, there comes the ceremonial “right hand of fellowship.”
I haven’t heard “experience” but I have heard the other two as well as “profession of faith” (which does mean the person has been saved and baptized before but maybe hasn’t been in church for a while).
Where is there any biblical references to any of these practices?
I wonder if it is supposed to be a way to discern whether this person is truly a new convert to the faith or just someone church-swapping.
And we all know what a horrible thing it is in the mind of an IFB mog for a person to church swap unless they are moving…major slippery slope… 🙄
Um, not always. We haven’t been back to our old fundy church for years, but last fall I got a call asking me to come in and sit at the intake desk for the pictorial directory. The lady who called was someone I didn’t know…
I guess because we haven’t found a new church, we’re still on the membership rolls.
We left our extremely bad IFB church in August, many years ago, following the antics of our power-trippin’ pastor. We called the leaders of the two ministries we were involved with to let them know, and neither one of them tried to find out why we were leaving or talk us out of it. In November we joined our new church by letter of transfer. In February my husband was hospitalized with a rare, serious disease. Imagine our surprise when members of our old church came to the hospital to see him. He was listed on the prayer sheet as a member; the church had no idea that we had left six months before. I appreciated the visit, but I was disgusted that the church took no notice of our total absence. They also brought us a potted plant, at a time when I desperately needed less to take care of, not more. Still, I took it so as not to hurt their feelings. Once at home I couldn’t decide whether to poison it or just let it die of neglect. (Yes, I was still pretty mad at the pastor!) 👿
I left my fundy church about 2 years ago w/out giving anyone aheads up. I was getting very tired of the the whole “we’re right everyone else is wrong” attitude, the last Sunday I attended I was in the Pastor’s class and he started in about how the KJV contained a “secret” code in it that if you counted a certain amt of vowels and consonants you could find codes, well immediately I began to wonder if that worked with all (8) of the substantial revisions, the actual 1611 or the 1769 edition that nearly every kjver uses today. Long story short I knew that day I was leaving and never coming back. My point; after 20 years I did not receive a phone call a visit, nothing, my 20 yrs of service and attendance in this relatively small (100 on Sunday)church left such a huge impact! About 4 years prior to my leaving, my 16-yr marriage fell apart, again not one visit, phone call nothing, I think this is incredible even for fundies.
@Greg you gotta love numerology in Church! The heart of the Gospel is hunting for secret codes in antiquated translations! The rest of your post is traagic and despicable by them.
@Rob – “The heart of the Gospel is hunting for secret codes in antiquated translations!” You gave me a good laugh this morning.
@grace2live, that’s so strange that the leadership didn’t seem to pass on to the members that you’d left.
@Greg, what a shame that no one responded to your leaving or to your divorce. My husband and I are very sensitive to that sort of situation; I know people have slid through the cracks in our church from time to time and we don’t want that to happen. Our way of trying to stop that is to encourage people to join a small group. But when Sunday morning only attenders stop coming, I’ll admit I don’t usually acknowledge it. (I know YOU weren’t that; I’m just thinking about people in our own church who’ve slipped away and may be hurt that no one acknowledged it.) I try to go around and greet people individually each morning, as well as making sure that my four kids are where they belong before I make sure all my music is ready and start playing the piano, but if someone who came for a while stops coming, I don’t usually call them. Such folks usually FEEL more tied to a church than they really are; they might GIVE in the offering so they feel connected and contributing, but since no one but the treasurer even knows who’s giving what, the only way I know to see that people are connected is when they get involved. I hate doing anything wrong, so I always feel embarrassed when I know someone leaves our church saying “no one was friendly” or “no one even noticed I was gone”, but I’m incredibly busy, and really can’t connect with every person who comes and goes. Again, not saying that was YOU, Greg!!! Your post just reminded me of some situations we’ve seen in our church of about 100 people, and I was thinking out loud.
My experience of fudamentalists giving me the Right Hand of Fellowship is across the face
My experience has been the stab in the back.