Dear Miss Manners:

A recent trend in Episcopal churches is to insert what is termed "The Greeting" in every service. I find this distasteful, since I am supposed to turn round about and greet with handshakes or a gentle kiss everyone who is near me.

For the most part, these are people I don't know, probably don't care to know, and will not see again socially. It seems to me that this is a too-intimate and unnecessary obeisance to strangers. As a result, I have stopped attending church services, which I had always much enjoyed.

Being now, at age 75, in moderate fear for my immortal soul, perhaps you can offer me your thoughts on this intrusive practice, or even a solution to my dilemma.

Go for the handshake. It's not the solution you requested, but Miss Manners fears for your mortality if you make it clear that you do not consider your fellow parishioners worth knowing.

Kissing them is something else. The purpose of having the minister and people greet one another in the name of the Lord was not to afford them some instant social intimacy. But as in social life, the attempt to replace the dignified handshake with a smooch can be headed off with a proffered hand.

Dear Miss Manners:

After 19 years' service, two years away from retirement, I was fired.

My immediate supervisor did not step forward to assume responsibility or blame regarding a few issues contributing to this termination. For example: I was accused of failure to complete subordinates' accident reports, when in fact I did turn them in to him, but watched helplessly as he tossed them, saying, "Higher-ups do not need this information."

I lost my job, my house, my car. I stay with friends and family--a day here, a day there.

A letter from my supervisor's wife was forwarded to me, stating that he tells her he thinks we worked well together and he misses me. It's too bad that I cannot find other employment and have become too busy to even consider a reply.

What shall I do? "Nothing" is not an option for me. I hate loose ends. Please be gentle with this Gentle Reader. My self-esteem is in the gutter.

Miss Manners suggests you fish it out. You have nothing about which to be ashamed and you don't want to wallow in the gutter with your former supervisor, who does and is.

He has been moping about this so much that his wife is trying to make amends with you, in the hope that this will assuage his conscience. She figures that if she gets a nice letter back (perhaps because you might need him as a reference), she can use it to argue that as you don't hold his behavior against him, there is no reason for him to do so.

What neither she nor you realizes is that the letter you would prefer to write would be an even bigger help to them. No show of hostility, however carefully worded, would strike them as deserved. Rather, it would convince them that there is something unpleasant about you that justified the firing, and that his failings had nothing to do with that, after all.

Does doing nothing (in the etiquette line, whatever you may do legally) begin to sound better to you? This person's self-esteem is in the gutter and all you need to do is to refrain from helping him fish it out.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

(c) 1999, Judith Martin