Column: High fives and handshakes

Over the last several weeks, several memories have popped up on my social media feeds, reminding me of the emergence of the coronavirus and the cascade of developments that quickly followed.

I can still remember where I was sitting, what I was wearing and how I was feeling as I typed the first message to the people of First Baptist Church.

I’m somewhat of a germophobe, so certain aspects of our initial response weren’t too far out of the ordinary for us. The fact that so many of my medical professional friends seemed uncertain and unwilling to comment on this new virus did, however, make me extremely nervous. Still, I genuinely thought we would make some small adjustments and move on with life.

My first letter to the church laid out four primary action steps we would be taking. We would take extra measures in cleaning our facility after every use. We would assure all food products were served by volunteers with appropriate protective wear, no more buffet-style service. All worship services would continue as usual with the caveat that we would go to a digital format in the unlikely scenario where it was suggested by the appropriate health agencies. And we would suspend our corporate greeting time (what my wife calls “Hug’em Howdy”) to limit unnecessary physical contact.

I never would have imagined what I believed was a quick note to calm concerns was actually the first step in a long journey in efforts to protect the health of our congregation and community.

While I do not miss the chaos of our corporate greeting time, I very much do miss physical human contact when people enter and exit the church. High fives and handshakes have been an important part of my worship experience since I was very young.

My bus driver, Dale Sours, was one of the coolest old guys I had ever met. He was the one who first invited me to church when I was in early elementary school. He always had a big smile, a piece of candy and most importantly, a secret handshake for me. It was an elaborate process involving a high five, three different handgrips and some well-coordinated spirit fingers.

Even after I no longer had to ride the bus to church, I still looked for Mr. Sours every Sunday morning. I can honestly say it was just as much, if not more, for the handshake than the candy. He knew me and cared enough to create a physical touchpoint that let me know I mattered to him and he was my friend.

As I was greeting people as they were exiting the church recently, I felt an overwhelming desire to offer my hand in friendship as people passed. There I was holding a door with signs to remind people to wear their masks with a mask on my own face and I was genuinely struggling to keep my hands to myself.

That Sunday, much like many others, I had to put my hands in my pockets to keep myself under control. It’s a natural reflex for me, and it’s one I don’t want to lose.

A second memory came up on my social media page today. In it, I quote the words of the prophet Jeremiah. He writes, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’”

These words were written to a people in exile, a people in need of hope and healing. They served as a reminder that we need today. God has not forgotten you, and there are better days ahead. Every period of “exile” has an end date, and there is reason to believe ours is coming soon.

I miss high fives and handshakes, and I eagerly look forward to the day when it is safe for them to return as standard operating procedure. I have high hopes that day is quickly coming. In the meantime, I will keep my hands in my pockets and my mask on my face while I do my best to smile with my eyes to communicate the joy in my heart when I see “my people.”

If you’re reading this, you are included in that number. And know that when this is all past, I have a handshake and a high five with your name on it … and perhaps some hand sanitizer.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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