Etiquette in Places of Worship

Notre dame noel 2006Sometimes we might find ourselves in a religious space that is not our own. Here are some very general tips to help you not embarrass yourself. Also, remember that even within a religion, there is a TON of variation, so consider these extremely general guidelines.

In General:

  • Be respectful of beliefs that are not your own.

  • Be quiet before and during all services-turn your phone off (and don’t dare use it unless an emergency), no talking or excessive rustling.

  • Follow along with whatever everyone else is doing if you are unsure.

  • Dress fairly conservatively, many places of worship require arms and legs to be covered (or have more specific requirements), even if visiting as a tourist. Check before you go.

  • If you are inviting a non-member to your place of worship, it would be kind to give them a rundown of what to expect and what is expected of them.

  • Don’t eat or drink, unless you are specifically offered something as part of the service.

Christian Churches:

  • Be very quiet even before services start, people use the time for reflection and prayer. In fact, you should almost never talk above a whisper in church as there are always people who wish to pray. Churches are very similar to libraries.

  • Stand when the congregation stands but you may sit while they kneel.

  • Communion: if you do not wish to participate, you can remain in the pew. If the pew is too narrow to allow this and let others pass, you can go up and cross your arms over your chest to signal that you are not participating. (Note: in the Catholic faith, only Catholics are allowed to receive communion, it is very disrespectful to take communion if you aren’t Catholic.)

  • You are welcome to follow along with the prayers, or to keep silent.

  • Don’t applaud after any music or singing.

  • There are many different denominations, so don’t expect every church to be exactly the same. Many have looser or stricter requirements.

  • Grace: you may be asked to say grace when dining in a Christian home. There are a number of well known graces you can say if you feel comfortable, but a general thanking of the host and talking about the beauty of the food is fine. If you want more of a “grace” feel, you could try this secularized version: “for what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen.” If someone else is saying grace, follow along with everyone else and either bow your head or join hands respectfully and either say amen at the end, or say nothing.

Jewish Synagogues

  • At many synagogues, most men will be wearing a yarmulke (a small round hat, also known as a kippa). They may have extras for you to borrow. Apparently it is not required, but it strongly suggested in more conservative synagogues.

  • There is a lot of standing and sitting, just go along with what everyone else is doing.

  • Services can last from 3-4 hours, so often people come and go and don’t stay for the entire time.

  • When the Ark is open, you shouldn’t enter or leave the sanctuary.

  • Don’t put prayer books on the floor.

  • Kiss anything that has fallen on the floor, like yarmulkes and prayer books.

  • It is inappropriate to applaud.

Muslim Mosques

  • Remove hats and shoes

  • Do not point your feet at the Qibla, the wall that aligns to the direction of Mecca.

  • Women are required to cover their heads, and everyone should cover as much skin as possible.

  • Sometimes there might be separate entrances or separate areas for men and women.

  • You may be greeted with the phrase “Assalam Allaikum” to which the correct response is “Wa alaikum-as-salam” though no one is really going to expect you to say it.

  • It is customary to enter with your right foot first and leave with your left foot first.

  • If you are a tourist, you should avoid coming to the mosque during the 5 daily prayer times.

Buddhist Shrines

  • Remove your hats and shoes.

  • Dress modestly, long pants are preferred to shorts.

  • Do not touch the Buddha statue. It is also respectful to back away from the Buddha statue a few paces before turning your back on it.

  • Pointing is very rude. If you need to indicate something, gesture with your whole RIGHT hand, palm up. Also don’t point your feet at any people or Buddhas.

  • If any monks or nuns enter while you are sitting, stand up.

  • Only use your right hand when giving or receiving anything.

  • Women should be careful not to touch a monk or to hand them anything directly as they must perform a lengthy cleansing ritual after any contact with a woman.

  • In the opposite style of a mosque, it is traditional to enter with your left foot and leave with your right foot.

  • You may greet monks by putting your palms together and bowing slightly.

Hindu Temple

  • You will usually need to take off your shoes. Many temples have cubbies outside where you can keep them, but if you’re worried about that, bring a bag and slip them in there.

  • There are generally pastes, flowers, and other objects that will be put on you. Be aware that you might get dirty.

  • Use only your right hand when making offerings.

  • There may be some places in the temple you are not allowed to go if you are not Hindu, so be aware that you may be blocked from entering certain rooms.


One thought on “Etiquette in Places of Worship

  1. Pingback: Musings On Religion, Holidays, and the In Laws | Uncommon Courtesy

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