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How do you behave in another religion's place of worship?

How do you behave in another religion's place of worship?

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Old Nov 29, 05, 9:25 am
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How do you behave in another religion's place of worship?

I have been to many Catholic churches, a number of Protestant ones, and some mosques. Obviously, when I go simply as a tourist, I try to be quiet, dress appropriately, and show respect for the site.

When I am more than a tourist -- for example, attending a Christmas Mass to enjoy the beauty of it or going to a Presbyterian wedding -- this question of how to behave becomes a bit trickier. In general, I have adopted the practice of not joining in prayers or hymns or making any sign that I am.

Hence, I will stand and sit with the congregation, but I will not kneel.

I will contribute if the basket is being passed around, but I will not accept communion (even in the Protestant churches where the communion plate is given from person to person).

I will not light a candle in a Catholic Church, but I have paid for candles and asked priests to light them and say a prayer for a Catholic friend who has a problem.

I will not bless myself with holy water nor make the sign of the cross.

I do remove my hat in a Christian church, even though it is Jewish tradition to have your head covered in a synagogue and I remove my shoes in a mosque.

Do you agree with my actions? Do you handle it in the same way or differently?
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Old Nov 29, 05, 9:36 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster
I have been to many Catholic churches, a number of Protestant ones, and some mosques. Obviously, when I go simply as a tourist, I try to be quiet, dress appropriately, and show respect for the site....
I think that your "actions" are completely justified in that you participate to the degree that it doesn't infringe on your religious beliefs. You demonstrate respect, yet do not engage in something that you do not believe in.

On the flipside, I would expect similar "actions" from someone attending a Synagogue service. That they dress appropriately, wear a yalmulke [there is no harm in this or acceptance of the Jewish faith implide], and observe the beauty of the service. I would not expect someone who is not a practicing Jew to go up to the Bimah and read from the Torah or a Hebrew prayer, because how can they "preach" something they do not believe in? (Reciting a prayer for the country is acceptable)
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Old Nov 29, 05, 9:42 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster
I have been to many Catholic churches, a number of Protestant ones, and some mosques. Obviously, when I go simply as a tourist, I try to be quiet, dress appropriately, and show respect for the site.

When I am more than a tourist -- for example, attending a Christmas Mass to enjoy the beauty of it or going to a Presbyterian wedding -- this question of how to behave becomes a bit trickier. In general, I have adopted the practice of not joining in prayers or hymns or making any sign that I am.

Hence, I will stand and sit with the congregation, but I will not kneel.
....
I will not light a candle in a Catholic Church, but I have paid for candles and asked priests to light them and say a prayer for a Catholic friend who has a problem.

I will not bless myself with holy water nor make the sign of the cross.

I do remove my hat in a Christian church, even though it is Jewish tradition to have your head covered in a synagogue and I remove my shoes in a mosque.

Do you agree with my actions? Do you handle it in the same way or differently?
Your actions exemplify that you follow the customs of the house of worship you are visiting without ignoring your own religious beliefs.

I've only been to mosques to see the beauty of their buildings and I did that in Istanbul. I wore long skirts and covered my head with a scarf.

When I've gone to bar or bat mitvahs, if the service is in a reformed temple, I just sit and pay attention as best I can. It helps that most of the service is in English. I have to say that when I've gone to a recent bat mitzvah last month in a conservative temple, I chose to sit in the back and brought a paperback book which I read inside the hebrew prayer book so nobody would notice. I knew the service would last 3 hours as I found out when I went to the same temple for another bat mitvah in the same family of an older sister. To sit and be still for 3 hours in a service which was 90% in Hebrew I found to be enormously difficult. The only person next to me was my husband who I think nodded off. I guess this makes me a bad person but I thought it was better to be there than to miss it or come in late and thereby cause attention to myself. My husband did wear a yarmulke out of respect.

....but I will not accept communion (even in the Protestant churches where the communion plate is given from person to person).
Not in all Protestant churches. In the Episcopal Church, the congregants come to the altar to receive Holy Communion; neither the plate nor the cup is passed around from person to person.

Last edited by Analise; Nov 29, 05 at 9:44 am
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Old Nov 29, 05, 9:56 am
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I am a Christian Scientist, wife is Catholic, and I have Methodist relatives. So I see the inside of those churches from time to time.

Originally Posted by Dovster
In general, I have adopted the practice of not joining in prayers or hymns or making any sign that I am.
I sing along and join in prayer, however when it comes to the Lord's prayer I don't say the differences outloud and say Christian Science version in my head.

Hence, I will stand and sit with the congregation, but I will not kneel.
I go ahead and kneel with the congregation except after communion, where I just sit.

I will contribute if the basket is being passed around, but I will not accept communion (even in the Protestant churches where the communion plate is given from person to person).

I will not bless myself with holy water nor make the sign of the cross.
I do the same thing here.

But all your actions are perfectly reasonable.
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Old Nov 29, 05, 9:58 am
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For me, it's important to be informed as much as possible about what is expected and what is permitted in someone else's place of worship. I would think it's disrespectful for someone to participate, unknowingly or otherwise, in a rite that they weren't entitled to participate in (for example, taking Communion). Ignorance is no excuse -- find out beforehand.

I'd also want to know in advance about the expected behavior and customs. For example, if I would be expected to wear certain garb (or alternatively expected not to wear garb that I would otherwise wear), I would then need to decide if the expected behavior and customs were consistent with my beliefs and practices. If not, I wouldn't attend the service or enter the place of worship, out of respect.

For me, the general rule would be not to do/wear anything that would seem disrespectful to many or most of the worshippers.
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Old Nov 29, 05, 2:06 pm
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My behaviour is similar to what is posted here. Dress respectfully, and stand or sit as appropriate. I don't kneel in a Catholic church (and I try to sit in the back so I'm not in the way of other's doing so), if I were to enter a temple I'd cover my head, etc.

I know the Methodist version of the Lord's Prayer, but I don't typically recite along with everyone else. If I know a song, I might hum along, or I may not.

Although the only time I've been in a synagogue was for a friend's Bar Mitzvah, and I was 13 at the time...

Last edited by empedocles; Nov 29, 05 at 2:08 pm
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Old Nov 29, 05, 3:24 pm
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I agree. although in any Christian church I will sing along with the hymns. I've a nice voice, and a talent for harmony. I just enjoy singing.
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Old Nov 29, 05, 3:44 pm
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Dovster, I think what you describe is the way it ought to be done by everyone. It shows that you are interested in and respect the faith of those around you, as well as being true to your own faith. Big !

As an Agnostic, I don't really participate in services of any religion or denomination, yet when attending one for whatever reason I will take my cues from the people around me as far as sitting/standing/dress requirements are concerned. Anything beyond this, I don't usually participate in unless someone specifically asks me to do so - provided I'm OK with it.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 6:24 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster
I have been to many Catholic churches, a number of Protestant ones, and some mosques. Obviously, when I go simply as a tourist, I try to be quiet, dress appropriately, and show respect for the site.

When I am more than a tourist -- for example, attending a Christmas Mass to enjoy the beauty of it or going to a Presbyterian wedding -- this question of how to behave becomes a bit trickier. In general, I have adopted the practice of not joining in prayers or hymns or making any sign that I am.

Hence, I will stand and sit with the congregation, but I will not kneel.

I will contribute if the basket is being passed around, but I will not accept communion (even in the Protestant churches where the communion plate is given from person to person).

I will not light a candle in a Catholic Church, but I have paid for candles and asked priests to light them and say a prayer for a Catholic friend who has a problem.

I will not bless myself with holy water nor make the sign of the cross.

I do remove my hat in a Christian church, even though it is Jewish tradition to have your head covered in a synagogue and I remove my shoes in a mosque.

Do you agree with my actions? Do you handle it in the same way or differently?
I agree with your actions totally. They denote respect. In days gone by Gentlemen removed their hats when going in to a house - so that was quite normal. Different faiths do things differently. As far as lighting a candle - I respect your thoughts - but no Catholic would have the least objection if the spirit moved you so to do.

I have never been to any servces outside Christianity so I would not know how to behave. I am however certain that people would realise that I was a visitor and make allowances. Weddings are the easiest - most people in Britain only ever visit a church for weddings and so the majority do not know quite what to do. Usually the Minister will tell you whether to sit, stand or kneel so that makes life easy.

Since I believe that God knows what is in the heart and minds of us all our outward actions matter less than what are in our thoughts at that moment. I hope that offends no one.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 6:51 am
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I really enjoyed reading this topic and I think that the things you demonstrated were common sense approaches to uncommon situations.
Handled tactfully and tastfully.

In Bucharest you pass a beautiful Orthodox church when leaving the Piata Muncii on the way to Victor Gomoiou Childrens hospital.
One day as we were walking by we decided to go into it.
This church (or should i say basilica?) was one of the most ornate and beautiful churches I have ever been in. The church itself was ordinary in that
it was open to anyone to walk in off the streets, nothing of value except the rugs on the floor and the paint on the walls but the detail and color of the murals were fantastic.

I felt uncomfortable when my friends started snapping pictures (no one was around but us) but now that I think of it I am going to take my wife there
this December to show her and I'll take some pictures to show you.

I grew up in a Catholic family here in Los Angeles and I remember the old Cathedral in Los Angeles. My folks would take us to that church and it was decorated wonderfully but I believe that basilica in Romania with its simple beauty was much more enjoyable.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 11:37 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster
I have been to many Catholic churches, a number of Protestant ones, and some mosques. Obviously, when I go simply as a tourist, I try to be quiet, dress appropriately, and show respect for the site.

When I am more than a tourist -- for example, attending a Christmas Mass to enjoy the beauty of it or going to a Presbyterian wedding -- this question of how to behave becomes a bit trickier. In general, I have adopted the practice of not joining in prayers or hymns or making any sign that I am.

Hence, I will stand and sit with the congregation, but I will not kneel.

I will contribute if the basket is being passed around, but I will not accept communion (even in the Protestant churches where the communion plate is given from person to person).

I will not light a candle in a Catholic Church, but I have paid for candles and asked priests to light them and say a prayer for a Catholic friend who has a problem.

I will not bless myself with holy water nor make the sign of the cross.

I do remove my hat in a Christian church, even though it is Jewish tradition to have your head covered in a synagogue and I remove my shoes in a mosque.

Do you agree with my actions? Do you handle it in the same way or differently?
I think you're doing things quite appropriately. Prior to converting to Catholicism, I didn't kneel or stand with the congregation. I sat near the back of the church and observed.

I don't see any reason why you can't light a candle if you're praying for someone in a Catholic church. That can be done in a private moment, and there's no need to avoid the demonstration if you feel inclined. I certainly wouldn't be offended.

This is a good thread and I've enjoyed reading others' feelings on the subject. I can't say that I agree with all of the posts, but I think that my actions have generally been in alignment with the rest of you.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 11:46 am
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Originally Posted by dchristiva
I don't see any reason why you can't light a candle if you're praying for someone in a Catholic church.
I don't do it because it is not part of my religious tradition. Yes, we light candles, but only for specific purposes and even then it is always done at home and not at a synagogue. Moreover, it isn't done as part of a request.

When I ask a priest to light a candle and say a prayer for a Catholic friend it isn't a matter of what I believe, but rather my friend's belief. As I live in Israel, which has numerous sites that Christians consider especially holy, it often gives them a comforting feeling to know that a candle has been lit at one of them in their name and that a priest at one of these sites has said a prayer for them.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 12:24 pm
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Dovester, thank you for starting this topic. It is interesting to read other people's views and feelings. When you attend a service, do you stand when everyone else is requested to stand?

Reading this thread reminds me of two experiences...

On our honeymoon 10 years ago, my husband and I toured St. Peter's Basilica very late in the afternoon. As we were leaving, we noticed a service was about to begin, so we stayed. A bystander said the service was not a typical mass, but a special event because priests were being ordained. We saw several cardinals and thought the Pope might have even been there, but we could not see him from our vantage point.

For me, witnessing this service was similar to attending the most beautiful opera. As soon as the spotlights blazed, I knew I was in a place that was larger than life. Although the service was performed entirely in Latin and I did not understand the first word, I could physically feel the beauty, devotion, and faith of the congregation. Each person was dressed in their respective vestments - priests in beautiful robes, monks in various colors of robes, and nuns in varying suits and habits. It is an experience I will never forget.

In September, I visited Sri Lanka to help build a house for Tsunami victims. At the end of the week, one friend and I were invited by a kind couple to attend a Catholic service of the church that donated the land for the house. Periodically, each of the three priests would translate important parts of the service in English. I could tell they were doing this strictly for our benefit. The congregation was so patient to sit through the extra explanations and the warmth, love, sincerity, and compassion is something I will never forget about that day.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 12:34 pm
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Originally Posted by flygirl555
When you attend a service, do you stand when everyone else is requested to stand?
Yes, I do. I consider it a sign of respect not one of prayer.
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Old Nov 30, 05, 1:04 pm
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While I basically do what everyone else has noted here, I didn't notice anyone mentioning participating in Shinto, Buddhist or Hindu rituals. I have participated in the purification before entering shrines in Japan. I've also participated in many other Buddhist rituals. Looking back, I don't know if I was being respectful or disrespectful, but my intent was the former (and I first did these things with a Buddhist who signaled that it was appropriate for me to do, so I assume it was). I kneel in Buddhist temples and don't point my feet toward Buddha. I toss monetary offerings where that's done. At Balinese temple ceremonies, I dress in a sarong and sash. I try to never be above a Buddhist monk.

I did attend a very private Hindu service - me, the swami and a friend. The swami knew I was not Hindu but guided me through it as a learning process, so I can assume that I was not being disrespectful by participating. I've also purchased offerings to place at the statues of gods in Hindu temples.

Not being religious, I have no concerns about going against the teachings of a religious institution of my own, but only that I'm respectful of others' beliefs and practices. I did stand silent when I was at a Christian service where everyone in the crowd spoke in tongues and politely declined when a Catholic priest offered to make me "rest in the spirit," as I believe it is called when one is touched on the forehead and falls backward and is apparently in a trance. This too was offered to me knowing I was not a believer, so I guess it would not have been offensive had I said yes.

I would be interested to know if any of what I've described would be considered inappropriate by followers of those faiths.

Last edited by l'etoile; Nov 30, 05 at 1:18 pm
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