I want to start this blog off by saying I am not a hug person. I don’t care for them. I would prefer that I didn’t receive one or give one. If they did die, as the blog title suggests, I would be just fine with it. I should say, so that you realize that I am human, that I do give hugs and reluctantly receive them, but that is usually after I have done my best to avoid them or I’m caught off guard. I love hugging my wife and children; that’s the end of the list. I should also say that social distancing was a way of life for me before COVID-19 forced us into it. I tried not to get too physically close to people when I didn’t have to. I recognize this makes me “unique” but the adjustment to social distancing was not cumbersome for me!
I share all of this about myself because what I’m about to say contradicts everything inside of me! The question in the title of the blog is “Is hugging dead?” and my answer to that question is no. If you google “is hugging bad for you,” you will get more links on why you should hug than why you shouldn’t. I know there are people who are “huggers.” They hug everyone and need hugs from everyone. And there are certainly circumstances where hugs are necessary for our comfort in tough situations. Many of the huggers in your church are on the welcome team or are ushers and they are loved by people as they come in. I remember we had a couple at my church growing up. They hugged everyone who came in and knew all the regular attenders names and the names of their family members’. They would give the kids a little extra squeeze most Sundays. Everyone knew whose door to enter if you were needing a hug or which door to avoid if you didn’t want someone hugging you (I never entered their door). They, by the way, need to be checked on during COVID-19 because they are not okay with all of our social distancing!
We are in a mostly unprecedented time in ministry with COVID-19, and though at this point we are starting to get the hang of what COVID-19 ministry looks like, we are not sure how long social distancing recommendations will be in place. I don’t want to get too deep into the regathering of the church here because we have put a good amount of information and resources here http://www.dba.net/meeting-in-person-again/, but I do want to just talk a little bit about what it could look like when we get back together. Keeping in mind that every church is going to be different and each church should do what’s best and safest for their people, everything I share is just recommendations that you can take or leave.
When your church does decide that it’s time to get back together, I pray that we keep up the social distancing and limited contact. That means we should make a few adjustments to our services. Perhaps registration of people attending is a good idea so you can have some say in how many people you admit into your worship center to be able to maintain the six-foot distancing recommendation between people. If that is not an issue for your church then making sure there are two chairs between family units and roping off every other row of chairs or pews would be good ideas. The welcome time during the service might need to be suspended or people encouraged to give a good hardy wave of the hand as they have a seat to help with the temptation that people will no doubt have to embrace or shake hands. People will want to engage in these rituals, but if we don’t give them the opportunities it will lower the chances that something could be passed. Handing or passing items such as bulletins or offering plates between people, masked and/or gloved or not, is not a good idea. Putting someone at the door with a plate that people can drop an offering in as they leave is a great way to still allow your people to worship through giving and limit the contact.
And those greeters, can’t forget about them. They just aren’t going to love wearing a mask or not hugging people, but their job is an important one. They will set the tone for people as they walk in by putting on their smiling eyes and happy voices. They will hold those doors and welcome people in, waving at each one making them feel like the most important person there, just without the hugs. There will be some people who will love it (like me), but there will be many who won’t. These measures will be necessary for a while but you can assure those who don’t love it that it won’t be forever.
As the shepherd of your flock, guide and protect them, setting the parameters that meet the health and safety needs of your people and the community to which they return. Will it be different for a while and not preferable to some? Absolutely. But, we need to lead our people to put others above self and work together to take care of each other. Ultimately it will just be nice to worship with our church families in the same buildings again. If the services feel a little different for a while, just remember that it feels more like “normal” than it has in over a month.