While visiting St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, I witnessed a
fella jackass making a business call inside the church. He was angry and cursing. He was oblivious and disrespectful. Every visitor in the cathedral gave him a dirty look but it didn’t bother him. He was indignant when a volunteer asked him to leave. It’s an extreme, but true, example of how not to behave when visiting a church.
Churches and other houses of worship are a popular stop on both domestic and international itineraries. Those who aren’t visiting for religious purposes are often interested in the art, architecture, or historical significance of the building. Whenever you enter a scared space, it’s important to behave in a respectful manner.
– Silence your cell phone before entering a church. If you are waiting on an important call, tour the church later.
– Inquire about the photography policy and honor it.
– Use your inside voice and keep your language clean.
– Be respectful of those who are praying or worshiping in another way. Do not disturb them.
– Do a little research on the best time to visit the facility. You don’t want to be a distraction during services or mandated prayer times.
– If you want to light a candle, pay for it. When touring a mission in San Antonio, McB and I saw a man who used his own lighter to avoid paying to light a candle. Don’t be that guy.
– Dress modestly. In the US we’re a bit more lenient about what can be worn inside a church but tank tops and other sleeveless shirts, bare knees, bare midriffs, and cleavage aren’t likely to make it inside a church in other parts of the world. For the ladies, if you must go sleeveless, take a shawl to cover your shoulders. Keep the shawl on for the duration of your visit.
– Gentlemen, the dress codes apply to you too. One of my passengers was once turned away from a church because his walking shorts fell just above the knee. It’s best to wear pants when visiting a church. You’ll want to have your shoulders covered by your shirtsleeves. Be sure to remove your hat.
– When visiting a temple/synagogue, both men and women may be asked to cover their heads. Yarmulkes would be provided for men and pieces of lace or another fabric would be offered to women. Men who visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem should be prepared to cover their heads with a cap of any kind.
– When visiting a mosque, be prepared to remove your shoes. Modest dress is also very important here. Women should wear a skirt and blouse (3/4 sleeve) or a dress. The length should fall below the knees. Headscarves or hoods should also be worn. Men should wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.
– If a church/temple/mosque official asks you to leave, just do it. Leave quickly and quietly without making a scene.
By following these fairly simple rules, you show respect and ensure that you’ll have a meaningful visit.