Proper behavior for irreligious/differing religious beliefs sorts?

I posted in John’s “Going Catholic” thread:

So what do you think about nonbelievers or followers of other religions or denominations? Do you mind infidels attending your services? What should they do/not do?

“Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

  • Bertrand Russell

In my experience, most religions welcome respectful visitors. It’s sort of like board protocol: lurk, observe, try to be unobtrusive at first. Most people don’t mind guests if they’re respectful guests, and they don’t mind or expect you to know the full protocol.
That said, I once attended a rather formal Islamic service, and I was a nervous wreck lest I inadvertantly do something horrendous.
And the less said about a very unusual snake handling service in an offshoot fundamentalist church, the better. The people were actually very nice, and very devout. But being around pissed off poisonous vipers made it hard to blend in.

These are exteme examples, and I don’t mean to hijack an excellent topic. I guess the analogy that comes to mind was a point made by a Native American on why tourists are so resented at their religious ceremonies. As he put it, “How would you like it if a group of Indians burst into your Catholic or Baptist church and started snapping camera flashes in your face?”
So…respectful visitors are usually welcome. Clinical anthropological examination and gawking tourism aren’t. (Relax, Tom of Tomndebb, I’m a lapsed anthropologist. How do you think I ended up at a snake handling service? In retrospect, their manners were better than mine, though. They were devout; I was just clinical.)

BTW, I was raised Protestant but have attended some Roman Catholic masses. I found them quite beautiful, and people quite welcoming, allowing for some incomprehension on my part, and not trying to ape full membership.
For what it’s worth…

Whaddya mean, no singing in Catholic services? (I reply to whoever said that in the other thread.) I lead the singing every week at Mass at my church – the congregation is supposed to sing along, though they don’t always (sigh.)

Can only speak for my own denomination here, but Catholics, as has been said, have no problem with respectful visitors. (I’d guess most religions feel the same way.)

If the Catholic church you go to has Missalettes (the little books with the readings in them) look in the first few pages. There are usually some guidelines for non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. The Missalettes can also be helpful in following the service.


There are some churches where you would be very much noticed, and become the object of some attention simply by being a new face. In many small Christian churches the welcoming of new people is a very important matter of faith. That might be discomforting if you came only to see what the people were doing, rather than to learn of the message of their faith.

While I have very strict personal standards of when it is appropriate to actively witness to someone about my faith, you must understand that if you come to the meeting of those who are celebrating our salvation by the Lord, we will wish to include you. This is the appropriate place, and time. We will not simply let you sit alone, and be apart, because we earnestly believe that you are here for us to reach out, and offer the love of our Savior.

Now, I do wish to assure you, no one in my church at least, will expect you to know any particular hymn, or prayer. If you came directly from the First Satanist Church of Mammon, and do not even know the name of Jesus, still you are welcome among us, as our Lord has bidden us. (OK, so we can be shocked, but you get the point.) Listen quietly, and hear what we say, and feel, and be comforted that we are instructed not to stand in judgement of your piety, or your faith. Speak out, if you feel the urge, when that is called for, in the services.

Being polite is nice. Some of the children might be bluntly curious as to who you are, and where you are from, but you are welcome, whoever you are, or wherever you have traveled. That is the charge given to us by our Lord.

We have great news, to share with you. The Lord is risen! He has gone before us, to prepare our way. He loves us, one and all, and the us includes you as well, if you wish it to. Enter please, and be welcome
<p align=“center”>Tris</p>

I now get to share one of the worst experiences of my life.

A friend of mine, Gene Hawkins, was the lead singer of a DC-based band called Lucy Brown. I saw them in DC before I moved to NYC, and they moved to NYC right around the time I did independently of me.

I got to see them rise from a show where I was the only spectator in Staten Island to breaking the attendance record for their record release party at The Limelight, to getting caught up in label politics and failing.

I then saw them continue to try. I saw them put on a show in NYC and the whole old gang was out. We rocked, the band we loved was back, it was like a new beginning.

Two weeks later I got a phone call. Gene died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin.

I made the trip from NYC to DC to go to the funeral. Gene was raised in a strict Baptist household, not uncommon for a young black man in DC. His mom was actively involved in the church.

The pastor, a woman, was doing the eulogy. The first words out of her mouth was, “I know a lot of you people here have not been in a church in a long time, so I’m going to take advantage of this situation.”

She proceeded at one point to continue to tell us all about how, if we continued to live like Gene, we would wind up like him. She even pointed to the coffin at this point.

I was horrified.

It took the respect for Gene’s parents to not walk out in the middle of it all. Many agreed with me, but nobody walked for the same reasons.

I was going to write her a nasty (yet respectful) letter, but the surviving bandmates told me that the service was “for his mom,” and to let it go. So I did.

It didn’t change the fact that I was morally outraged at this. A eulogy is supposed to speak of the deceased. This person didn’t even know the deceased.

I guess, if I am going to correlate this to the thread, I would say that if you are a person of faith and you have someone new there, do what you would normally do.

On the bright side, I was in Memphis and I went out of my way to see Al Green (yes, THE Al Green!) preach and sing. It was amazing, and he treated us tourist types perfectly.

“Some people come here to hear me preach. Others want me to sign an album. Some just want to hear me sing… Well, that’s exactly what I’m a-gonna do!”

And sing he did…

Well i kind of gave a little about what you should and should not do in a Catholic mass in the other thread about “going Catholic”. Catholics welcome practically everyone who is respectful.


-Be quiet and not talk during mass. If the priest is one of the more brave (and funny IMO) types he wont hesitate to embarass you in front of the entire congregation :).

-Sit, stand, and kneel when everyone else does. Also, there’s a part during the mass where everyone does a small greeting with their neighbors. This is usually hand shaking, or even hugging, and often people exchange words (i’ve been to a mass at an all girls Catholic High School and they could get pretty loud!)

-Stay until the priest leaves the building (the father has left the room). Do not leave before hand. Such things are not seen as polite (and unfortunately even many Catholics do this)

  • Of course, be respectful. Do not start muttering how you disagree with this or that, save it til you at least leave church premises.

-Feel compelled to have to sing. Even I don’t sing in church and many people also dont. Often there are misselettes and song books that have all the lyrics. There is usually also a sign board with the numbers of the songs that are to be sung.

-Go up for communion. If people know you are not Catholic, it’s not looked upon lightly, mostly by the more devout Catholics. Communion is a very special event for Catholics (no matter how you feel on the subject, this is a part of the respect part).

-Feel compelled to have to do the sign of the cross. I’ve seen many visitng friends mess up the order or use the wrong hand and it’s just painful to watch :). (BTW: you use the right hand, and you start at the forehead, down to the end of the sternum, over to the left shoulder, then to the right shoulder.)

-Fall asleep. Another disprespectful thing. No matter how boring the priest is, keep yourself awake! (Even I have nearly fallen asleep in masses with utterly boring priests!)
Depending on how interesting or how boring the priest is the mass can run from 45 minutes to over an hour. A family friend of ours who is a priest always makes his masses short and sweet. The longest part is usually the homily, which some priests feel compelled to make last 20 minutes or longer. Usually the homily is when most people fall asleep.

Like I said in the other thread Tomndebb can give more.

‘The beginning calls for courage; the end demands care’

Guidelines for attending a service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

  1. The LDS (“Mormon”) church welcomes visitors from all faiths, being a missionary church, so feel free to visit anytime.

  2. Don’t smoke during services.

  3. Don’t partake of the Sacrament (Communion) unless you’re a member in good standing, because it represents a covenant between the person partaking of it and God. (Trays of bread and water are blessed and then passed around to the congregation.)

  4. Mormons dress nice for services. If you really want to blend in (although this is not necessary), dress nicely (shirt, tie, slacks for men, conservative dress for women).

Here is the format for Sacrament Meeting, which is the main meeting (the others are Priesthood Meeting{for men], Relief Society [for women] and Sunday School [for everyone]):

-Opening prayer.
-Announcements and greeting from Bishopric.
-Special ordinances (blessings of babies, confirmation for baptisms, etc.)
-Speakers (youth speakers speak first, 2 or 3 2-5 minute talks).
-Usually a family has the duration of the talks and they speak by assignment of topic. The exception to this is Fast Sunday, where members are encouraged to come up to the podium and bear their testimonies of the gospel in their own personal lives. Fast Sunday is the first Sunday of every month.
-Closing prayer.

You don’t have to sing, there is no kneeling for prayers, and last but not least, children are welcome.

Go visit sometime. It’s a very spiritual experience for many, and you’re always welcome.

Oops, I forgot the hymns in the above list. :slight_smile:

If I’d been Gene’s parents, I think I would have gotten up and walked out! And probably not quietly, either.


Thanks, Snarkberry – that was a great rundown!

And Doobieous – please sing in church! The cantor and choir are not supposed to be performing, but leading. I’ll grant that some cantors and choirs don’t seem to know that and do tons of new and/or difficult material, but sing along anyway if you possibly can.

Singing is another way of participating in the services, and good cantors and choirs want to hear you singing! Sorry, but I get exercised about this :slight_smile:

P.S. If anyone’s wondering about the word “cantor” – it’s Latin for “singer” and to Catholics it just means “songleader.” Obviously, Jewish cantors serve a much more complex and important function.

Catrandom, frustrated cantor

A couple of church don’ts:

If you are attending a Christmas service with a candlelit ceremony, do not bend your candle into a loop, no matter how boring the service is.

If you do that, then do not discard the paper disc that catches the molten wax.

If you do that, then do not light your candle and allow the wax to drip down your arm.

Personal experience.

Other than that, I have found churchgoing folks to be very welcoming of new faces.

Modest? You bet I’m modest! I am the queen of modesty!

Hey Catrandom, I see in your profile that you are in the L.A. area. Where do you cantor? I’ve spent the last three years in the choir at St. Bede’s (R.C.), and recently moved to the choir at St. George’s (Episcopal).


A newbie might feel nervous when first visiting a mosque, but it’s really nothing to worry about. Islamic guidance tells Muslims to cut visitors a lot of slack. Just how much? Consider this…

During the time of Prophet Muhammad, a Bedouin from the desert was visiting the Prophet’s Mosque for the first time. He needed to take a piss, so he wizzed right on the floor. Maybe he’d never before been inside a building. Of course the Muslims were outraged and they were going to beat him up for this sacrilege, but the Prophet was gentle. He told them to let the poor schnook go, because he obviously didn’t know better. Then he said bring a bucket of water to clean up the piss.

So, don’t sweat it if by mistake you commit a little faux pas in a mosque. It is not likely you will do anything nearly as bad as pissing on the floor! If you’re at all acquainted with civilization.

Melin – I’m at St. Mark’s in Venice; a small parish, about 1,000 families. Been singing every Saturday at the 5:30 Mass for about eight years now (and a year or two more, then retirement for me!)Stop by if you’re ever in the area of a Saturday evening – I’lll be the redheaded mezzo at the microphone trying to get people to sing already! St. Mark’s has a tiny little choir that needs help if you’re anywhere nearby … :slight_smile:

Where’s St. Bede’s? I know a lot of the churches 'round here, but have missed that one. Is it in L.A.?


::sigh:: Sadly, I think we’re about as far away as we could get from each other and still be in LA County (well, I suppose I could be in Palmdale). St. Bede’s is in La Canada, which is the next town to the west of Pasadena, and kind of north of Glendale.

A redheaded mezzo! ::embracing:: Sis!!!

-Melin (who is actually bisectional)

Catrandom wrote:

You’re welcome. :slight_smile:

I should add that there are also visiting “high council” men who regularly speak in LDS Sacrament Meeting, as well as missionary farewells and welcome-homes. There are so many of the latter in Utah that missionaries are told to talk about a doctrinal topic rather than just give an account of their mission at their welcome-home meeting.

Then there are ward conferences, stake conferences and General Conference where leaders speak. (A “ward” is just another name for a congregation, presided over by a bishop; a “stake” is a bunch of wards put together, presided over by a stake president; and “General Conference” is the head honchos speaking semi-annually to the entire membership of the church in October and April.

Probably more than you wanted to know, but I just thought I’d mention these things.

Um, speaking as a non-Catholic but as one who went to a Catholic church for seven years, I don’t think they care whether you kneel or not – at least they didn’t in the church I went to. Visitors who are not Catholic or Episcopal (and who therefore are not usually kneelers) don’t have to kneel if they don’t want to. The point is, no church should want to make visitors uncomfortable, so you should do what you’re comforatable with and don’t do what you’re not. If you don’t want to sing, don’t sing; if you don’t want to kneel, don’t kneel. Just dress appropriately and act respectful. My $.02.

Pretty much the same on the Jewish end. Respect the belief. Be silent when others are silent, dress like the others dress, don’t feel compelled to sing if you don’t want to or don’t know how, but if you’re willing to sing with the comgregation, no one will have a problem with it.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Melin ::embrace returned:: – fellow redheaded mezzo!

La Canada! I know most of the churches on the West Side, the S.F. Valley, and even the South Bay and downtown L.A., but La Canada is a just a wee bit out of my territory, alas. Too bad – would have been nice to have a singalong :slight_smile:

Catrandom, who also swings both ways (alto and second soprano)

We have had a “Satan worshipper”* attend a service at our (Baptist) church. He came in late, dressed in leather with Statanic symbolism, walked to the front pew (at this point some men obviously tensed, ready in case he attacked the pastor!), sat in the front pew, and listened. After we were sure he was not there to cause trouble, he was treated with all the respect due a fellow human being. He told the pastor, after the service, that he wanted to see “how the other half lived”. So be it. All who come in peace are welcome.

*I put this phrase in quotes because I do not believe the lad was a member of a Satanic cult. Real ones are very rare. More likely he and his friends were enamored with he concept, but had not a clue what they were doing.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik