Visiting a Place of Worship

Church

Every day, people gather in religious centers for worship, prayer, and acknowledgement of belief through shared traditions and ritual.  Some primarily gather in a place such as a church, synagogue, sangha, shrine, mosque, or temple.  

Those who gather regularly also develop a sense of community in their worship practices.  And some view themselves as part of a worldwide community.

The practices and traditions mean a great deal to those who belong and may be at the very center of their lives.  Many individuals understand and interpret the world around them in terms of beliefs they hold sacred.

Depending on the religion, the rules of welcoming newcomers and visitors can not only vary, but may be quite different.

Understand Why You Want to Attend

As a potential visitor to an unfamiliar place of worship, begin with your reason and intention for attending.  Remember that you are a visitor rather than a guest.

  • If you are attending as a tourist, choose a site to visit that makes special provisions for tourists.  The rules will be clearly posted, or you may sign up with a guide.
  • It you are curious and have always wanted to see what’s happening inside the place you would like to visit, avoid just dropping in.  Explore online or call the number given for information.  Be prepared to experience some differences in what you thought you’d notice and what you do notice.  You may encounter unfamiliar ways of worship and world view. 
  • If you are looking for a place of worship, explore the website and learn as much as you can ahead of time.  You will find yourself observing others and taking as much in as you can.   But don't expect to be treated as a guest; you are a visitor. 

All faiths desire to share with others and are welcoming.  But all communities expect that guests are respectful.

Every community, or congregation of believers has a unique personality and no doubt will set the tone of how the rules of welcoming are presented.

Show Your Respect

The most important etiquette rule is to be respectful by following the rules of visitation.  In a way, visits to any unfamiliar place can feel like a cross-cultural experience.  Being prepared is vital. 

  • Dress appropriately.  A good rule of thumb is: dress so as not to call attention to yourself.  “Covering more than less” is also a good rule of thumb. 
  • Be on time.  Come with a good and sincere attitude.
  • Be mindful and courteous that religious leaders sometimes have other means of supporting themselves and have time demands.  
  • Being genuinely interested in learning something, while being respectful of where you are, is expected.
  • Avoid discussing any new awareness in the service. 
  • Don’t feel obligated to participate.  Some faiths have certain activities that outsiders may not participate in.  Doing your research will help you know which rites or rituals those would be.
  • Realize that your interest and curiosity will probably not be anyone’s topic of conversation while you are there.
  • You will encounter many new things.  Be prepared to absorb it all in a polite manner.
  • As you leave, thank the ushers or clergy members you pass.

Exploring a New Place of Worship

As a visitor, you’ll naturally be curious about your surroundings.  As you prepared to observe the culture, tradition, and expectations of your chosen place of worship, prepare to show respect for the physical place.

  • Stay in populated areas.  Unless you are with a group touring the building, avoid snooping around the areas of the building that are not in use at the time.
  • Do not take pictures unless explicitly told it is okay to do so.
  • Assume that food and drinks should not be brought in. 
  • Avoid touching the artifacts, decorations, and other adornments often found in places of worship.

Visiting a religious space is a meaningful experience.  Whether you are there to potentially join that community, or satisfy a curiosity, the reverence you show for the religion, traditions, and the building will be appreciated.



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