Holy Kiss

Kiss_(1873) (1)

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?

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9 Responses

  1. Nadia says:

    I am from South America and it’s also very common to kiss on the cheeks, in and outside the church. I don’t like it though. I’ve grown up in this culture, but even since I was a little child I didn’t like it. It always felt like an invasion of my personal space. Now I extend my hand before anybody has the chance to give me an unwanted kiss.
    Just to be clear: I do kiss on the cheek or hug some people, but I prefer that my first interactions are not like that, and I love feeling empowered to choose who I am more warm with, and who gets to be that with me.

  2. Gary Upshaw says:

    Brazilians don’t have personal space either. Men or women. Non-lesbian girls hold hands and think nothing of it. Kissing their cheeks and hugging is expected. “Ugly” Americans are “cold”.

    Off the subject but I have to mention,
    Closing a prayer with a very vocal ‘Amen ” by everyone is a fact of life for members of the church in Brazil.

    So is missionary work. They are excited about their Religion and want to share it.

  3. vajra2 says:

    I much prefer a hug or a kiss on the cheek than the unwarranted and unwanted habit of showing up at my door unannounced to “share” a “message.” Usually at dinnertime.

  4. Dani Addante says:

    I’m originally from a country in Europe and it’s common to kiss on both cheeks there. Both men and women do this frequently, but only with people they’ve met before. When I’d go to church, there would be a long line of women for me to greet by kissing on both cheeks. Both men and women would greet this way, but I noticed that LDS men did not greet the sister missionaries like this because it wasn’t allowed. Non-member men didn’t know, so they frequently tried to greet my comp and me by kissing on the cheek. I later learned that there’s nothing in the missionary rules that says this isn’t allowed. In fact, the missionary handbook tells missionaries to adapt to the culture. I’ve lived in the U.S. for most of my life, but I still miss the culture I grew up with.

    • Rachel says:

      I served in France and I noticed the same thing. LDS men knew not to kiss us sisters and LDS women knew not to kiss the Elders. Non members obviously didn’t know so we had lots of men try to kiss us.

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    I was greeted by a cheek kiss each time I attended by branch in Italy. it made me feel immediately at home there; more so than in any other ward I attended

  6. During my mission, I served on a country where it was common to kiss on the cheek in greeting. When I was young, I was quite reserved and uncomfortable with physical affection, so adapting to this different culture where I was required to be more physically demonstrative was good for me, I think, because it helped me learn to be more open and warm. Also, in that country, handshaking was often replaced by a tap with the elbow, which was great! Very useful if your hands were full or dirty.

  7. AJ says:

    I wish there was less. After being sexually abused as a child, my personal space is very important to me. It’s taken me years to claim authority over my own body again, and I HATE that people at church think they have the right to touch me when I am not comfortable with it. If we’re strangers, don’t touch me. If we’re friends, maybe we can revisit that idea.

  8. Rachel says:

    I served in France and “the bise” or kiss on the cheek was a very common greeting at church among the men and women. I found it charming and I miss it. Most LDS men knew that they weren’t supposed to kiss us and the women knew not to kiss the elders. I didn’t see a lot of hugging and I remember some members/investigators seeming uncomfortable when we offered a hug. But they were perfectly comfortable kissing us. It’s all cultural I suppose.

    I don’t remember the exact wording from the handbook, but I think it says all contact beyond a handshake between opposite genders is inappropriate.

    I think it’s okay to want physical boundaries at church.

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