Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: I take exception to your reply to "Minister's Daughter, Cayucos, Calif." (Sept. 8), who objected to the greeting and handshaking moment during church service that is dictated by the minister.

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with "Daughter's" sentiments, as do many other members of my church. We feel that the moment is manipulated, interrupts the flow of the service and creates a false bonhomie.

None of us is unfriendly, ungracious or reluctant to make others feel welcome in our church. But we would prefer to do it spontaneously — before or after the service — when we actually feel moved to make the gesture.

— LYN IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.

DEAR LYN: I understand your sentiments. That said, I stand by my answer. I told "Minister's Daughter" that I didn't think it was too much to ask to reach out for a moment to ensure that everyone felt included. However, I received a ton of mail on this subject and opinions were decidedly mixed. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: When I attended church with my husband and family, I never cared for the forced greeting custom. However, now that I am divorced and attend church alone, I realize that the human contact is priceless.

One Sunday, our minister said, "Turn to the people next to you and tell them they are beautiful." I turned, and the woman next to me said, "Hello. Has anyone told you that you are beautiful?" Even though it was a "forced" greeting, it touched my heart. Speaking as someone who lives alone and who never hears those words, it brightened my day. The greeting, like the church and life, is not about what you get, but about what you give to someone else.

— GREETER WITH A NEW ATTITUDE

DEAR ABBY: We started this type of greeting years ago, and I also think more people don't like it. I hate it when people cover their face with their hand when they cough or sneeze and then offer a handshake. We all know that colds and flu are transmitted this way.

After hearing complaints, our pastor now asks that we offer a "sign of peace." I much prefer this, and I offer a smile and say, "La paix du Seigneur" (God's peace be with you). However, I never refuse a handshake if one is offered.

— ANDREE IN OTTAWA

DEAR ABBY: Before receiving disability insurance, I was a homeless man. Many times, the only thing that kept me from committing suicide was the opportunity to enter a local church for a few minutes of worship and the reminder that I was still part of the human race.

All too often, my appearance and status were enough to turn most people away. But those who truly walked in the love of God reached out to me with open arms and hearts. And they weren't afraid of catching some unknown disease that living on the streets might produce. In this fragmented society, even "lepers" need love.

— ART IN ABILENE

DEAR ABBY: If the intent of this practice is to make newcomers feel like part of the group, then it is counterproductive. A better way would be for the pastor to encourage gregarious members of the congregation to greet new people after the service. If it is for those worshippers who are already well-acquainted to greet each other in a structured manner, then it is unnecessary.

— WASHINGTON STATE BOOMER

DEAR ABBY: A message to "Minister's Daughter": If you intend to go to heaven, GET USED TO IT. Everyone in heaven greets you. You may be so relieved you made it through the Pearly Gates that you'll be happy to spread a few germs.

— "GRAN" IN LAKELAND, FLA.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.