The right hand of fellowship

This afternoon, after worship is over, I’ll head to the airport and fly to Providence. From there, a car to suburban Boston, to the
First Parish Church in Weston where my friend
Peter Boullata will be ordained to the Christian ministry. I’ll offer him the right hand of fellowship.

I’ve seen people try to get clever with the right hand of fellowship, and it never
seems to work. The reference is to Galatians 2:9. Here it is, with the verse following:

And when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

(NRSV)

Certain themes are clear: commission, affirmation, unity. These are appropriate for someone
entering ordained life, of course. The act reminds us of the different labors that
ordained ministers might find in their vocations. It also reminds us that none of us is commissioned
to save the world, but that we can and must share the task.

But recall, too, that it is — or at least, is ours by right — our practice to welcome
new members, the overwhelming number of whom are not ordained, by the right hand of fellowship. And with
it, more than a handshake, they too receive a commission, affirmation, and a sign of unity.
And a share of the mission.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on “The right hand of fellowship”

  1. Who wrote this? I found it through a keyword search as I was preapring to offer the right hand of fellowship to a colleague.

  2. My question is whether you have ever encountered the notion that the “right hand of fellowship” is in fact the left hand? as opposed to the right hand of fellowship being i.e the physical right hand? Have any of you ever encountered a pastor, or church anywhere where the pastor insists that his left hand is the ‘right hand of fellowship’ and whilst in worship if you raise your ‘orthodox’ right hand ‘up’ he takes this as an attempt to challenge his authority ,which he administers through his ‘left hand’? This is a true story ,please help me understand this practice . Recently the pastor was approached by a baptismal candidate about getting baptised , when asked if he ws ready to be baptised the candidate said he was, then the pastor said to him whilst holding aloft his left hand “do you accept our right hand of fellowship?’ to which the man replied “yes I do” to this the pastor in turn said “well you may be baptised then.” He never said this to me when they baptised me in 2004 and I was wondering where on earth he was coming from ? This occurred not less than 3 months ago in 2009. When I pressed the pastor in private about him constantly waving his finger around in the air at church during the service he said “it simply means OneGod” . I then pushed the envelope further in front of another pastor if he personally required the people to accept his left hand as the right hand of fellowship, to this he said “no of course not we have already given you the hand of fellowship its inconsequential which hand you hold up” I said “Good you wont mind if I contimue believing that my right hand is in fact….my right hand and yours as well likewise”. And then not more than 3 months after this he states the opposite to the abovementioned batismal candidate.???? Then only last month to our song leader he holds out his left hand and looks up at God and says “this is the right hand of fellowship” not (whilst holding out his right hand) this one ! Then recently because he can sense my confusion he comes up to and whispers the same thing “this is the right hand of fellowship!” holding out his left hand. Is this type of lunacy common in christian churches and how many people have backslidden statistically over this type of absurdity. Please help me understand this man.

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