Viruses and Introverts

We are all managing our lives differently because of Covid-19. I have a “clean” and “dirty” bag for masks at my house, for instance. I could never have imagined such a thing a year ago.

One of the ways congregations are most affected by this kind of vigilance has to do with practices surrounding worship. If you are a pastor or session member or a member of the worship committee; or if you are involved in the health profession in any way, you have probably been in multiple meetings trying to decide what is right when it comes to worshiping in person. Of course, while the leadership is spending time on these details, some of your members are wondering if they even want to go back into the sanctuary where they can’t fast forward. . . .

For instance, how will you celebrate communion? Some people decide during flu season each year that it is better to pass little pieces of bread and cups of juice than to have communion by intinction. I have heard that you actually come into contact with more germs by passing a plate that so many people have touched. Now we are way beyond that. Who will actually touch the elements? How will those who commune receive bread and juice—or only one?

What will you do at the door after worship? The most vulnerable person there, of course, is the pastor. When I was a pastor I would sometimes have someone transfer a damp tissue from their right to their left hand so that they could shake hands with me. Thanks. I have always washed my hands immediately after greeting at the door. Now there will be no greeting at the door. People will probably be dismissed by rows or in some other way so that there is no gathering at the door and the pastor certainly should not stand there to greet people, even without touching. I think that, deep down, this has been one of the hardest aspects of all of this for pastors. They are not getting that immediate touch with many members of their congregation each week. And, if they are honest, they miss the almost constant affirmation that they receive at the door. So many weeks without a constant stream of people saying, “Good sermon, pastor!”

There will be no passing of the peace in the usual way. Maybe you will wave. Maybe you will make the peace sign. But, you will not shake hands or hug each other for some months to come. If you look at Facebook you may have seen some memes from introverts like this one: “Stay home and don’t interact with people? I have been preparing for this my whole life!”

Speaking as an introvert, the whole idea of the passing of the peace has always been awkward for me, especially as a presbytery leader worshiping in a congregation where I don’t really know anyone. It is the one thing that we are forced to do in worship. If you do not want to sing, don’t sing. If you do not want to pray, don’t pray. If you don’t stand up and shake hands with people during the passing of the peace (before our current vigilance), people will think that you are an awful snob or that there is something horribly wrong with you.

I have read that our obsession with valuing extroversion over introversion is fairly new in the history of humanity. When most people lived agrarian lives and never traveled very far from home, they were not judged by the way they interacted with strangers or those with whom they did not have business to conduct. But now we value the friendly person who “has never met a stranger.”

We all need to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves from this virus and from illness in general. In your discussions about worship practices, you are making “worst-case scenario” decisions right now. But when this has passed, you might want to think about the ways you welcome both introverts and extroverts into worship. Is everyone being treated as a unique child of God? Even now, you might begin to ask those who worship with you in whatever way you are worshiping, what is it that they value about the way you have done things the last three months and what do they miss? What do they look forward to doing again when you come back together and what do they hope remains permanently changed? How do all of our practices when we gather for worship and companionship value our differences so that we may each come to know hope in Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago