The Receiving Line

Post Author: Rev. Merianna Harrelson

My heart finally slowed down as the organist began the postlude. I had made it through another Sunday of trying to offer Good News in the midst of so much terrible news. As I processed out down the long aisle, I switched gears in my mind. This was the part of Sunday morning worship that was either always the most meaningful or most difficult: the receiving line. 


In some traditions, the pastor processes out of the sanctuary during the postlude and opens the front doors as the church bells ring and the choir sings. The opening of the doors after worship has symbolic meaning: it reminds the people of God that what we have heard together and what we have learned together, we now take out into the world in hopes of bringing love and light into the hurting world. 


 It really is a beautiful tradition. 


The music and the bells coupled with the open doors alert the community that God’ people have communed with the Divine and are ready to take hope and light into the world. For these moments after worship, the preacher transforms into a pastor coming down to shake hands with God’s people offering a listening ear or a kind word. 


Sometimes those hand shakes are just that, a connection between two people who have communed together with the Divine. Sometimes those hand shakes are paired with concerns and feedback about the church, the pastor, or the community of faith. As a pastor, you really never know what you are going to get as you walk down the aisle to the back of the church. 


Before I was a pastor, I loved the receiving line. It was a place of communion and connection. More than likely, at least one person in the line would know someone who knew someone who knew a relative. It was always fun to trace the line until we found the point of intersection.


It was intimidating as a young pastor to stand and receive feedback, prayer requests, and invitations for connections. I can remember my heart racing, I can remember my palms sweating because I didn’t know whether people would respond with openness to the message or not. Standing in a pulpit as a woman when so many people believe that women shouldn’t be preachers was daunting enough, but that was just part of the work. 


It’s not just the comments that the pastor is receiving in that line. It’s also the hopes and fears of God’s people. It’s in that receiving line that I have heard news of people’s loved ones receiving terminal diagnoses. It is in that receiving line that I have heard stories of people whose families won’t accept them for who they are. 


Now looking back, I can still faces of the people in those receiving lines. I can still see their eyes when we found a common friend, a common interest, or a common experience. I can see the tears in a woman’s eyes as she told me, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard a woman preach, but it won’t be the last.”


I can hear the concern laced in the request of a man who said, “I know you are only visiting us, but can you pray for my wife? Her memory is fading and I don’t know what I would do without her.” 


Worship opens the windows into our souls. It invites our souls to breathe and to remember. Once we have worshiped together, it is in the receiving line that pastors receive the Good News that God is still working and the Spirit is still moving among God’ people.The Word becomes flesh in the receiving line in a holy and sacred moment.

The Rev. Merianna Harrelson is the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. She is the author of Morning Light: A 30-Day Devotion Journey and Toast the Day: A 30-Day Prayer Journey. She is also a Spiritual Director. 

Image by: Rev. Merianna Harrelson, National Baptist Memorial Church, Washington, DC
Used with permission
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