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By: Dr. Joanne Z Moore, PT, DHSC, OCS

churchThe loss of a spouse prompts many of us to seek greater meaning in Life. This may be a time that we would like to explore the concept of Deity. Since over half of Americans are not regular attendees of religious services, many of us may be uncomfortable about walking into a church or temple. It might be nice to understand the etiquette is in these mysterious places – do we wear a hat, how dressy or casually can we dress, do we sit, stand, kneel, shake hands or bow? Knowing these small courtesies might help us garner the courage to walk in.

The most important thing to remember is that you will be welcomed. People who attend services enjoy the sense of community, and are joyful to greet you into their midst. So when you show up, your demeanor can be one of friendly confidence; your attitude that of a respectful learner. You may certainly choose to be fairly anonymous, and participate as an observer, entering quietly and sitting discreetly. Or, you may be more assertive, calling the church/temple office during the week, and ask to be greeted at the door by someone who would be willing to orient you to the service. Many places have a coffee hour following the service, which can provide a real flavor of the social aspects of the congregation. Find out if there is an adult education program available. Attending these classes gives a great insight into the theology of the denomination, and into their interpretation of how the faith calls us to act.

For all denominations: be sure to turn off all electronic devices prior to entering. Dress modestly. Avoid talking, eating, or drinking during a service. If you must leave, try to do so when the congregation is standing.

CrossRoman Catholic

* The service: Mass, duration 45 minutes: hymns, opening prayers, prayers of contrition and for the needs of the people, readings from the Bible, sermon, collection basket for voluntary donations, Communion (must be an active Catholic to receive). The booklet in the pew has the script of the Mass. Hymnal will be found in the pew.

* Passing of the peace: Shake hands, say, “Peace be with you”; respond, “And also with you”.

* There are times to sit, stand, and kneel – don’t sit in the front pew, so that you can follow.

* Worship Leader: a priest, referred to as “Father”

* People genuflect (touch the right knee to the floor, as a sign of respect for the Eucharist, before entering a pew).

* The Book: The Holy Bible, divided into Old Testament (before the birth of Jesus) and the New Testament (after the birth of Jesus).

* Reference: Why do Catholics do That? By Kevin Orlin Johnson, Random House 2011.


* Episcopal, United Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist. Quakers, Universalist Unitarians, Mormons, and many others.

* The service: About 1 hour – hymns, opening prayers, prayers of contrition and for the needs of the people, readings from the Bible, sermon, collection basket for voluntary donations. Communion, open to all who are seeking God, may be served by the ushers passing a plate of bread as you sit in the pew. If so, it is customary to wait until all have been served; the bread is then eaten together as a symbol of community. When the cup of grape juice is passed, it is consumed when received, as a symbol of our individual relationship with God. Or, communion is served at the front of the church. People in the front pews walk up the center aisle first, followed by those in the pews behind. The pastor will say something to the effect of “Body of Christ, which was given for you”, and you respond, “Amen”. There may an usher standing beside the pastor with a chalice of wine or, more likely, grape juice. He will say something like, “Cup of Salvation”. You dip the bread into the juice, and say, “Amen”. You consume the communion there, and walk back down the side aisle to your seat. A program will provide the script for the service. Hymnals will be in the pew.

* Worship Leader: Reverend or Pastor

* Welcoming hospitality: at the door by a friendly person. During service possibly: If asked, introduce self, where you’re from, and that you are happy to be present today. You may be contacted during the week to see if you have questions.

* Some of the more evangelistic churches may invite those who have been saved to come forward for a special blessing. You may go forward if you wish, but it is fine to stay seated as well.

* The Quaker service will differ from other mainstream Protestant churches. It is a time of quiet reflection. Members of the congregation speak only when they feel moved to do so.

* The Book: The Holy Bible, divided into Old Testament (before the birth of Jesus) and the New Testament (after the birth of Jesus).


(By Robert Levin, MD)

* The service: The Friday night erev (evening of) Shabbat lasts about an hour. The Saturday morning service for Shabbat may be several hours. This varies depending on whether the congregation is Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform. All the services will have a good deal of or be predominantly in Hebrew. The Reform services, once nearly all in English, has brought in a considerable amount of Hebrew in recent years. Torah reading is followed by interpretation by the rabbi, called a “d’var torah” as opposed to a formal sermon. Responsive readings in Hebrew and English will occur throughout the service.

* No donation is expected. Charity (tzuddukah) cannot be collected on Shabbat. It may be given voluntarily to the synagogue at any other time of the week.

* Many congregations have greeters.

* Worship Leader: Rabbi, who is first and foremost a “teacher”, which is what the Hebrew for rabbi derives its root from.

* Synogogue may be called a temple (Reform Judaism) or shul (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism). The most important feature of the synagogue is the Ark (the Aron Kodesh), where the Torah is housed. Do not enter or leave the main sanctuary while this cabinet is open. In Orthodox shuls, men and women sit in separate areas.

* Dress: Women should err on the side of wearing a simple head covering. Men wear Yarmulkes/kippot, women hats or scarves. Many provide loaners for guests. For morning services only Jewish males wear a talit (fringed prayer shawl). Jacket and tie for men, pantsuit or dress that falls below the knees for women. Avoid pantsuits in Orthodox synagogues.

* The Book: The Old Testament (The Tenach) including the Torah, Kings, Prophets, Proverbs, and Psalms. Also the book of prayer, the Siddur, which is generally in Hebrew and translated into English is the main reading source. On Saturdays (as well as on Monday and Thursday mornings) the Torah (the handwritten scroll of the five books of Moses) is read and the book the congregation reads contains the Torah text and the Haftorah text (predominantly from the prophets from the Tenach/Old Testament).

* Reference: Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Morrow & Co., 1991.


* Worship Leader: Venerable

* Dress: Remove shoes and headgear before entering. Men wear jacket and tie, Women dress that falls below the knees.

* Body language: Do not turn your back or point your toes (if seated) at any cleric or at the shrine.

* Do not enter or leave during the meditation.


* Worship Leader: Imam

* Dress: Remove shoes before entering. Women wear head covering; scarves may be available to borrow.

* Gender relationships may be formal. Wait for another to first extend a hand in greeting. There may be separate entrances for men and women. Most prayer halls will be separated by gender.

* Courtesy: Do not walk in front of someone who is praying.

* Traditional greeting: “Salaam alaykum” (Peace be upon you), and the response is “Wa Alykum Salaam (and upon you peace).

* The Book: Quran.


(By Govind Menon, PhD)

* Hindu temples vary by geographic community. For example, North Indian communities worship somewhat differently from South Indian communities. However, the general process of worship is similar to that described below. Note that most Hindus do not have a specific day of the week set aside to go to temples. They typically visit temples for special personal occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. or when they feel a special need to pray at a temple. For most part, Hindus tend to pray at home, in the mornings and/or evenings.

* Worship Leader: Priest, Pandit, or Pujari: addressed as, “Swamiji”. Pujari’s lead special prayers –‘pujas’- at specific times of the day and for special religious festivals. At the end of these prayer services, pujari’s typically offer some of the items used in the puja to visitors, e.g., flowers, fruit, raisins or nuts. Always accept these items only with your right hand. As a general rule, use only your right hand to accept or offer anything within the temple.

* Traditional greeting: Namaste (I honor the spirit in you which is also in me), said with palms together at chest height, with a slight bow to the shrine.

* Dress: Remove shoes before entering sanctuary, although it is acceptable to wear socks. Traditional garb is sometimes required. Dress conservatively.

* While seated, either sit with your legs folded beneath you, or pointed away from the shrine, do not expose your feet to the shrine.

* Donations: It is customary to leave a gift of $1 to $5 toward the upkeep of the temple in a specially marked box.

If this quest for Deity is new for you, be patient and take your time. Remember that seeking a relationship with God is a lifelong adventure, and that there is great joy and purpose in the search process. Visit several houses of worship. It might be helpful to keep a journal, so that you can remember the wisdom of each experience.

A word of caution: A cult is a group that focuses on controlling people through reverence for the worship leader. True religions emphasize our relationship with God, and respect the concept of free will.


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