Column – ‘Take my hand, lead me home’

Published 4:39 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

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My last column was about the healing that occurs in healthy church communities. Churches have their flaws, like any other gathered body of people. Harm happens there also. Yet, I’m convinced that having a church in your life is what so many people are in need of these days, and always have been. 

Several columns ago, I also wrote about the powerful effects of smiling at folks — the good it does for your health and theirs. It improves our physical and emotional health. Done consistently, it can have long term and permanent benefits to your life and to those around you, even to strangers. 

There is another simple physical act we can do, which science has strongly indicated has physical and emotional benefits. That act is holding hands. Now, I have to say this up front. This should only be done when it is clear it is consensual, and not everyone is even able to indicate consent, so it should never be assumed. 

When it can be done, though, it is something that can be very effective in comforting, building confidence, and building community. 

Each Sunday as I leave the chancel area at Oakland Christian Church on Godwin Boulevard, the place that heals me, I walk up one of the aisles in our sanctuary. I follow the acolyte carrying “the light” out into the world. As I glance to my left, there is always a small group of folks holding hands during our final choral blessing. The group varies — it is often women, but not always. It is anchored, I’m certain, by Mrs. Judy Gardner. You may know Judy as the widow of the Rev. Wayne Gardner, a long-time clergy pillar in this area. Make no mistake, Judy remains a full and capable partner in ministry and always has been a pillar all on her own. Being a retired nurse, she knows a lot about healing and providing comfort. 

Friends, each time I see this simple act by this small group of people, it heals me. Just witnessing that simple yet deeply profound act of communal love, support and comfort is like the “heavens have torn open” (see Isaiah 64) and poured out right into our world. 

This September, the British-Columbia Journal of Medicine had a brief article, “The Science of Holding Hands.” I encourage you to read it. Here’s a portion of it:

“The pressure of touch on the highly sensitive skin of the hand stimulates the pressure-sensitive Pacinian corpuscles, which send signals to the vagus nerve, which conducts signals to the hypothalamus, which in turn lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and contributes to the neurological management of stress responses. 

In practical terms, hand-holding can also start oxytocin production, which can help one to feel closer and more connected to someone and also reduce cortisol response to stress. 

In Western cultures, spouses and romantic couples often hold hands as a sign of affection or to express feelings of closeness. In Arab countries, North Africa, in some parts of Asia, and in some Mediterranean and Southern European cultures, males hold hands for friendship or as a sign of respect. In contrast, in Western countries, same-sex couples may avoid holding hands in public if they fear homophobic reactions.”

I have seen combat-experienced veterans, college football teams, lovers, parents and children, and all sorts of other people in consensual relationships holding hands. Each time, it pleases me, and I believe it pleases God. I’m certain it’s good for their health. 

I’m reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite hymn, and one of mine, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” In fact, his last words were “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” 

The last few lines are, 


“Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”


When we take each other’s hands in an expression of love, compassion, support or joy, I believe it’s a step along the path toward a world which we all hope for, and God intends. It heals our wounds and nourishes us to go on. After all, as Ram Dass, spiritual leader/guru, taught, “we are all just walking each other home.“

Smile at a stranger. Hold a loved one’s hand. Let love heal our world. It’s the best remedy for it. 

THE REV. JASON STUMP is pastor of Oakland Christian United Church of Christ in Suffolk. He can be reached at