Recently I attended church in central America. Several sisters came to welcome me, an obvious visitor, with “buenos dias” and an embrace with a kiss on the cheek. It was very nice. I did feel welcome there, even though my meager Spanish didn’t allow me to fully understand the speakers. It got me thinking about how we use physical affection to communicate with each other. If our wards are meant to be families, should our church meetings be a place for connection and communication, including physical contact? There is a lot of worry about our isolated, online lives. When we are actually physically together should we actually reach out and touch someone?
Many stories of the Savior involve him touching people. Possibly touch is an aspect of Christlike love. In Corinthians the early saints are admonished to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Is there much smooching going on in your ward?
I conducted a highly unscientific study of my own, southern Utah, ward. My methodology was observing my fellow congregants on two separate Sundays. My data is as follows: No smooching. At all, except of babies. Hugging was much more popular, particularly the non-threatening side-by-side hug. It was more prevalent between females, infrequent between males, and exceedingly rare between adults of different genders. The far more intimate face-to-face hugs occurred only between a few women and some teenage girls. The much more common handshake was found in all configurations, with a significant increase in males. The big, loud, squeeze really hard, Sabbath-appropriate-pissing-contest variant was observed, mostly among teenage males. High fives and fist bumps, especially with sound effects and jazz hands, were much used by adult men towards little kids. Even the toddlers seem fluent in this variety of body language. Hand holding was seen only between adults and young children, and the elderly that needed to support each other. Genial slaps on the back were very much in use between adult males and completely absent among females. I did not see anything that struck me as creepy or inappropriate, but that must always be judged by the recipient.
Awareness and prevention of abuse is a good thing, but it is possible that fear of being misunderstood has led to much less willingness to touch one another. Perhaps wards that are well established are more comfortable with touching as every ward seems to have its own culture, along with its own norms and traditions. As we try to meet the needs of others, maybe we should consider appropriate touch as a possible way to fellowship.
What’s your experience with physical contact in a church setting? Do you wish there was more, or less? Are you a hugger? Or the far-less-common kisser?