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When physical touch is impossible


Laying on of hands can still happen

September 4, 2021

When laying on of hands was impossible for the ordination of elders and deacons, Southminster Presbyterian created handprint stoles. Caitlin Deyerle

Our congregation has been worshiping virtually since last year. We had a few good months of outdoor worship, but colder weather meant back to virtual worship. And that meant reimagining one of our favorite Sundays of the new year: Ordination and Installation Sunday.

About two-thirds of the congregation I serve is made up of ordained elders. So, the laying on of hands after the ordination and installation of new elders and deacons is always a huge crowd. After we pray, we greet the new elders with hugs and handshakes. All of the things that make it such a beloved tradition, though, just weren’t going to be possible with COVID-19 safety precautions still in place at the start of 2021.

I had seen the idea of creating handprints for ordinations floating around in clergy groups online. I envisioned making them into stoles. The session loved the idea. We invited all ordained ruling and teaching elders to stop by the church to trace their handprints onto sheets of felt. We are one of those churches where almost everyone has a key, so we just set up a table by the back door, with extra wipes and hand sanitizer, of course.

I didn’t even think to ask folks to write things on their handprints; they just started doing that themselves. It was beautiful to have each handprint signed with a prayer or a blessing. One new elder grew up in the church, and both of her parents are elders. It was special to have their handprints on her stole with notes for her.

The stoles themselves were simple to put together. I used some special glue to attach the handprints and then delivered them to each elder to wear for the Zoom ordination and installation service.

While not as ideal as being together physically, the stoles allowed us to recreate in a different way that same personal sense of connection and passing of the torch between generations of elders that is so important. While we couldn’t recreate the weight of those hands on their shoulders, we could create something visible and tangible to represent the body of Christ surrounding them, blessing them and calling them into service. There were a lot of tears as we shared that moment, even across the distance of Zoom.

Everyone who received a stole has said that it is something they will treasure. The stoles will probably become a tradition in our church, even after the pandemic becomes a memory.

 The Rev. Caitlin Deyerle, Pastor, Southminster Presbyterian Church, North Chesterfield, Virginia

Today’s Focus: Physical touch impossible during pandemic

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Carla Sutton, Administrative 1, Operations, Presbyterian Foundation
Joe Tackett, Planning & Development Officer, Trust Services, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Merciful God, make us courageous and compassionate in our outreach to our neighbors living beyond the doors of the church. Shine your light through us that we might be a blessing to them. Open your church to the blessings you have for us from those we have yet to meet. Amen.

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