Not Everybody wants to be touched


I forgot that on Sunday morning. During the final hymn, I left the chancel to make my way to the back of the church. That’s my weekly routine. Personally, I want to connect with as many folks as possible before they leave.

As I made my way down a side aisle, I gave a high-five to a UNC alum. I winked at some ornery friends. I touched the shoulder of an older man who is recovering from surgery.  I introduced myself to a visiting young couple. 

Then, I made my way to the head usher, at the central back door. Each week, during these quick minutes, she silently points out any other guests she wants me to meet.  If she got their names, she gives me that information as well. 

As I stood there, I noticed someone sitting in the back of another section of the sanctuary. A niece of one of our unpaid office staff visits several times a year.  I wanted to say hello.  Because the niece was sitting in the middle of the back pew, I went up behind her and touched her shoulder.  I didn’t want to scare her, but I wanted her to know I noticed her.  She looked over her shoulder, grinned and nodded.  The older woman sitting next to her, noticed my intrusion.  She is a long-time member, but I don’t know her very well.  She rarely speaks to anyone.  She and her husband sneak in and out of the sanctuary without drawing any attention to themselves.  They are loners.

I touched the older woman on the shoulder and smiled. I wanted to apologize for breaking in.  She turned around and slapped me. It wasn’t a love pat; it was more of a slug.  It startled me, for sure. I had never been hit in church.

I quickly exited out another side door. I didn’t want to cause any commotion.  I wanted to greet others.  I whispered into the head usher’s ear, and she simply mouthed, “must not be taking her meds”. That made sense. This older saint has schizophrenia.  I had forgotten that.  The ushers know about it. 

The incident wasn’t over. As I was standing at the central door, my nemesis made a bee-line toward me, shoving others out of the way.  Fury had possessed her.   Thankfully, her husband held her by the elbows and was escorting her out.  She was swinging.

My heart sunk as the husband pushed past me and out the back door.  I’m grateful that at our church, we have open doors. Everybody is welcome. This incident was a reminder that we need to develop appropriate responses.  I’m going to research mental health first aid.  I just wanted to put this in writing again.  Not everybody wants to be touched.


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