At the end of a video conferencing call, have you found yourself waving energetically at the screen? It might seem strange to make a goodbye gesture toward a computer, but something tells us that it’s not right to simply make those faces disappear by clicking a button labeled “Leave meeting.”
According to some body language experts, this wave is a common practice and a good thing. An NBC article notes, “The Zoom wave provides social connections when many of us are missing them.” Erica Dhawan, author of the book, Digital Body Language, says “It creates not only a sense of closure and alignment but is also, for some, a signal of respect and acknowledgment: valuing others for their time, their engagement with us.”
As we navigate this digital culture that COVID-19 has created, I am considering other “real-life” cultures I have encountered, in particular their customs around saying hello and goodbye.
In Nazareth, where my family lived for nine years, a business meeting often began by everyone taking time to sip small cups of strong Arabic coffee together. If you met an acquaintance on the street, you would inquire about that person’s family. Today, even in texting interchanges with non-North American friends, I find myself sending greetings to be shared with my conversation partner’s loved ones.
In Brazil, where I grew up, leave-taking from a home visit often involved several rounds of “I should go now,” and the host’s response, “But it’s still early.” When visitors did prepare to leave, the host would walk them to the door and would remain there, without shutting the door, until the guests were out of sight.
This issue’s feature, “Toward Antioch,” explores the vision of an “intercultural church,” a Christian community that values the richness its diverse members bring to their life together. Maybe a place to start is to expand our rituals of greeting and departing, both onscreen and in person.
How might gestures and words help connect us with each other across distances and cultures? Is it possible to make our hellos and goodbyes more intentional and respectful? Are we ready to experience some awkwardness as we try out new ways of acknowledging each other?
In the pre-pandemic days, a custom at my church involved greeters at the two main entrances saying hello and shaking the hands of young and old. This practice was part of our church family’s culture of hospitality. I wonder whether we will continue to offer handshakes when the church gathers post-pandemic. Might we hesitate to get close to each other? Or maybe, on that first Sunday back together, we’ll be tempted to hug everyone in sight—not advisable! Going forward, maybe church practices will require dispensing with the traditional handshake altogether.
In any case, let’s figure out how our greetings and departures can grow as practices of welcome and inclusion. Whether in front of a screen, on a neighbourhood sidewalk, or in a church foyer, it matters how we begin and end our encounters. Learning how to do this well can be a first step toward becoming an intercultural church.
Thank you for reading and goodbye for now.
A recent addition to the CM team is Charleen Jongejan Harder, who will be reporting on news from the Leamington-Windsor area. She and her husband Kendall currently serve on the pastoral team at North Leamington United Mennonite Church. They previously were co-pastors of Valleyview Mennonite Church in London, so her connections there might bring stories from the London area as well.
At the beginning of May, we welcomed Grace Bruinooge as a social media intern with Canadian Mennonite. Grace is a student at Canadian Mennonite University, studying in the area of communications. For the next couple months, she’ll be helping CM communicate in the online world. We look forward to the learning and sharing all of us will experience.
Welcome, Charleen and Grace!