Fellowshipping: From Handshakes to Hugs

Building and Growing Relationships

Last Friday’s topic was a special one for Vic, most especially so since he himself, in the last two years, has partially evolved from being a handshake type-of-a-person to a greeter-hug kind-of-a-guy. He presented a heartwarming lesson on fellowshipping of a group of friends and church family. He illustrated his point by also sharing our crossover journey with the Bautistas to Rancho Murrieta. His lesson is called, “From Handshakes to Hugs.” Vic delivered a strong and a very personal message on building and growing relationships.

The recorded history of handshakes dates as far back as the 4th century BC. When men met and displayed their empty right hands, it’s assumed that they won’t strike each other. Although a handshake in modern history is seen as a hospitable gesture, according to business etiquette expert Terry Pithers, “In business, the handshake allows a person to create a subconscious connection with another, especially when combined with a warm expression and eye contact.” A firm and friendly handshake make for a good impression.

On the other hand, hugs are a natural display of affection and an instinctive show of protectionism. There’s no clear recording of the history and evolution of hugging. The word hug, however, is believed to have originated from 16th-century Norwegian term “hugga,” meaning ‘to comfort’ or ‘to console.’

In 2016, a distant cousin to the term hugga became one of the newest accepted words in the Oxford dictionary. The new word, hygge, is Norwegian in origin and is widely used and practiced in Scandinavian countries. It is pronounced as hoo-guh. The Oxford dictionary defines it as, “A quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”

No wonder the Scandinavian countries always ranked high in the UN’s survey of happiest nations in the world.

Let me say this, there’s nothing wrong with handshakes or preferring hugs. If you’re not okay with giving or receiving either one, that’s alright. Some people or culture express their show of pleasantries with a head nod, a hand wave, or a slight bow. Others would just smile. Don’t feel bad or obligated to be all that pleasant all the time. Allow others to see the real you while also being mindful and respectful of their being. Moreover, don’t be in a habit of ignoring people or being selective of who to be cordial with. I’m saying this not only because it’s rude to do so, but also because that type of heart and attitude do not belong in the loving community of Christ. Unless, of course, there’s a medical reason why conventional social interactions are hard, if not impossible for you to undertake.

We’ve discussed handshakes and hugs and have mentioned it’s deep connection to the process of fellowshipping, but what is a fellowship, anyway? Fellowship stems from the Greek noun koinonia which means, “a bond for a common purpose.” In a church where a mission statement is loving everyone everywhere and where the desired cultural atmosphere is that of a casual gathering of friends advancing the cause of Christ, at some point in the fellowship, as a person who calls the church a home, I may have to extend my social pleasantries beyond the concept of handshakes. At some point in a casual church fellowship, a tradition of a formal handshake would eventually have to evolve into a culture of a comforting hug. By a “comforting hug,” I don’t mean it in a literal sense of a physical hug. Metaphorically, it suggests a welcoming vibe that tells the other person, “You are loved.” And for this to happen, it entails personal cooperation and intentionally working towards the purpose.

I remember our family’s first Sunday attendance in the Murrieta campus of Rancho Community Church was during the second lesson on the study of the Book of Philippians. The title of the series was “You’ve Got This,” and Ryan Beaver taught the lesson. It was November in 2017. I met Pat, who immediately strikes me as a sincere and genuinely loving greeter. Right off the bat, he summoned Ryan (the then lead teaching pastor of Murrieta campus) and introduced us to him. We exchanged firm, genuine, and welcoming handshakes. When you have the pleasure of meeting Ryan, you’ll see that he has an endearing way about him that makes you feel at ease.

I signed up Caden and Caly to Rancho’s Teen and Youth Ministries. I reached out to Ryan and Daniel, the middle school pastor, to let them know that we are new to the church and would need some assistance settling in. I also indicated my family’s desire to help in any way we can in the ministries. Caly felt at home right away with the middle school group led by Daniel and Summer. Our introverted Caden enjoyed Ryan’s teen lessons but wasn’t so excited in the new group initially, since he didn’t have anyone there in his same age bracket. But just seeing Rachel and Tommy, two of the lead teen ministry mentors and volunteers who took over the teen weekly meeting, reached out to Caden and called him by name, and approached him like his a long time part of the group was very encouraging to me and Vic.

On our second visit to Rancho Murrieta, Pat and I were already in a hugging stage. For us this transition was easy. But we’re not like everyone. As a community and as individuals, we have to not only recognize this, but we also have to respect our individual differences. This is where Vic’s suggestion of looking into the three aspects of fellowshipping will come into play. More on that in a few.

The Bautistas also joined us in the second time we came to Rancho Murrieta. We introduced them to Ryan, Alex, and Dan, one of the elders, and his wife Mary. Elizabeth signed up to volunteer. She and I started participating in various women’s events. Our families attended a highly important church announcement and transitional meeting in December at the house of Dan and Mary. It’s the first time we were meeting the leaders of both Murrieta and Temecula campuses. That meeting confirmed my family’s decision to make Rancho Murrieta our home church. We didn’t want to be with a home church that prioritizes the protection of its institution over the movement of Christ. The fact that the church organization of Rancho Community Church represents a carefully built organizational structure that advances the cause of Christ and promotes a calling of loving everyone everywhere affirms that this was where we should be.

The following are what to Vic are the three salient aspects of a fellowship, especially when you are new. The commentary on each section is my own, although it reflects the gist of Vic’s message.

1.Communication. Communication is a process. The not so secret tip to an effective communication is having the ability to listen well while also participating in the conversation.

There will be a few awkward moments; that’s okay. Just be patient. Stay a while after the service to get to know people. It takes time and effort to build rapport. If you’re not the extrovert type, don’t worry. You’re not the only one. While you’re building the confidence to strike a conversation, help yourself to a cup of drink and pick-me-up goodness from the refreshment table. If there’s no one to talk to or you decided you don’t feel like talking to anyone, just enjoy the food. By the way, just like the kitchen in your home, the refreshment table is a great place for people to come together and catch up. This is the inspiration of our hospitality whenever Elizabeth and I and our families are in charge of the Sunday refreshments. We do our best to serve others, home-style. While the food is always good, it’s the service and the experience that’ll make the people loosen up a bit and talk. At least that’s the idea.

2.Honesty. Be your natural you while also mindfully being considerate of others. Know that honesty requires vulnerability, too. However, be careful not to overwhelm others with everything about you. Being honest is not about pouring your whole life story in a few meetings to others that you just met. Make room for future share. It takes take a while to establish trust and confidence, so don’t rush into a BFF status in just two meetings. Being honest is being present in the moment and allowing the real you to show up while setting some boundaries.

3.Loving Heart. Jesus said, in Matthew 22:37-40 MSG, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Consequently, there cannot be a sharing of a common bond of loving all people everywhere if we remained in our comfortable and familiar spaces. It takes time and effort to love others, especially, those who are different from you. Stay in the course. Love requires work and practice. Discover the beauty of individual differences and understand that there is unity in diversity.

Vic says, “Fellowshipping is not just about the talking or the exchange of fleeting pleasantries. It’s the building of a closely-knit and devoted relationship. To me, a church fellowship is a form of a community prayer. Gandhi once said, ‘In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart’. When we pray to God, it’s not just what we say. It’s whether we mean what we say. When we fellowship with church family we reach out to each other in unity and love. We love and serve without demanding anything in return.”

It’s better to just have a casual talk outside a fellowship than a fellowship inundated by lukewarm relations.

However, when the transformation of the social pleasantries from cordial, albeit, eager handshakes to heartwarming hugs begins to take place, expect to see a vibrant community of people energized and excited to contribute in any way they can. That’s just the natural outcome of love in full display.

The Health Benefits of Hugging

My family’s journey as an active participant of the Rancho Murrieta church community continues. It’s reached its early hug status and we’re hopeful that we can use our story to inspire newcomers to the Rancho Murrieta or those who are thinking of calling it a home but are hesitant about making new affiliations to dive in. Dive into a fellowship with other committed people dedicated to advancing the cause of Christ, loving everyone everywhere.

Scandal of Grace

Click here to see Kyle Preston, lead teaching pastor of Rancho Murrieta, share his authentic and heartwarming lesson that tackles the subject of mental health and the church community.

To close, here are a few of the scripture read mentioned in Vic’s study:

1 Corinthians 1:7-9

1 John 1:5-7

Psalm 139:23


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