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When The Church Building Is A Tourist Attraction

My tale isn’t so much one story as an ongoing struggle against ignorant tourists who visit the church my family have been members of for several generations.

The church I attend is in the middle of our city’s historical district, and many of the buildings around us are part of a living history museum, all of which were built by members of said church. To further complicate things, the Protestant denomination of our church, the Moravians, is quite small and not very well known. While the church itself is not part of the museum tour, we do open parts of the church up to visitors during the busy season so they can look at the inside and ask questions about our history, theology, and traditions. While we try to be accommodating and welcoming to any guests we have, some of them have pushed the limits of hospitality a bit far.

My late grandfather was in charge of the church facilities around thirty years ago. Back then, the entire church was not quite as secure as it is now, and as a result he would find tourists who had managed to get in and were roaming the Christian Education building, sometimes trying to break into locked rooms, offices, and cabinets to “see what was in there”.  Some of the tourists who did these things did not even realize that the church was not a preserved museum exhibit and still held a functioning congregation. Things that were not secured in the sanctuary would disappear, including hymnals, guestbooks, and, on one sad occasion, the silver baptismal font, which was kept hidden under one of the lecterns. We’ve even had tourists try to come in during private ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, even though the doors are clearly marked that what is going on is not an open service or for the public.

Moravians also hold a special service called a Lovefeast during certain times of the year, most famously on Christmas Eve; it consists of a fellowship meal in which worshipers receive a bun and a mug of sweet coffee. It has become quite popular in our city to the point that the actual Christmas Eve services at our church have almost no attendants from the church itself; they are entirely for the benefit of visitors. Some of these visitors, alas, decide to pay us back for our hospitality by stealing the coffee mugs they drank from during the service. We put a cue in the service that “Mugs will be collected” perhaps thinking that maybe folks didn’t understand they weren’t for keeps, but they still disappear year after year, service after service. It may not seem like much, but it does add up, especially when church funds have been creeping into the red thanks to the economic downturn.

The absolute worst tourist we had, though, was a near disaster. Grandfather one day heard creaking coming from above him and realized someone was in the church’s attic. He went up there to see two tourists roaming around, and just in time to see one of them drop a lit cigarette so they could stamp it out on the dry, 200-year old attic floor. Even if you can forgive the roaming here, why on heaven and earth would you even be smoking in someone’s church, how could you be rude enough to stamp it out on their floor, and are you too stupid to realize that dry wood + hot cinders = huge fire? Grandfather fully admitted his sense of hospitality fell a bit short that day when it came to asking them to leave.

Folks, if you’re visiting a church, temple, or other religious facility, it doesn’t matter how big, old, or famous it is, it was and very may well still be a place of worship. You would be appalled if someone came into your place of worship, stole things and acted like a lout; it doesn’t give you license to do the same because a congregation chooses opens its doors to visitors. Behave yourself and treat the congregation and facilities with respect.  0326-12


I am familiar with Moravians and the church you are referring to.   There are multiple layers to this problem, the first being that the church, while not technically part of the museum collection of buildings one must pay to enter, is listed as one of the historical buildings.   Despite an excellent web site detailing the times and days of the week the buildings are open for visitation, some tourists will “wing it” by the seat of their pants and go exploring where they have no business being.  Many religious treasures are subject to this, i.e the National Cathedral, St. Pat’s Cathedral, etc.

The problem with Love Feasts is that they appear to be”community outreach” activities and are often publicized in the area newspapers.   I remember reading about Moravian Christmas Eve Love Feasts years ago in Southern Living magazine.   With PR like that, no wonder the service is crowded with guests!   There are congregations that would give their right arms to pack a service with that many guests who are then captive listeners to whatever message is preached from the pulpit.   Retrieval of the coffee mugs might be better facilitated by taking up a collection of them by the usher after a suitable time period, much like churches do after communion to gather the small grape juice cups.

The Amish in tourist locales such as Lancaster, PA. can tell some harrowing tales of finding tourists in their homes or wandering the family farm.  The Amish have no church buildings so Sunday services, sings (where singles gather to play volleyball and sing hymns) and weddings are all held on a family farm.  Tourists have been known to walk right in on these functions.

Clueless tourists with no sense of boundaries are not limited to any particular sect or religion.   But knowing that this is inevitable if one is a congregant at a historical church may encourage a more hospitable approach to unintentional guests who have willingly walked right into YOUR church and upon being the recipients of good-natured hospitality, may decide the message from the pulpit is rather appealing after all.

{ 86 comments… add one }
  • KT March 28, 2012, 1:58 pm

    While I am apalled by the behavior exhibited by those “tourists”, I have one suggestion regarding your post: There’s a fabulous new invention called paper cups, maybe you have heard of them? Yeah, they don’t cost as much as mugs, and you can throw them away…neat, huh?

  • Lily March 28, 2012, 2:08 pm

    @ Wink, I agree with your sentiments that even proper museum goers act in an appropriate manner. They don’t touch what they aren’t supposed to touch and don’t go where they have been advised not to, and they certainly don’t steal objects. They don’t smoke where they’re advised not to, and if there is a request for a donation, they consider the request accordingly.

    I don’t agree with your sentiment that those who don’t follow the same faith or no faith at all can have no sense of respect for others who do have faith. If there is one thing I’ve learned is that there are kind people in all class, race, religion, orientation, culture, what have you. There were even kind Nazis! (I recommend reading or watching the movie “The Pianist” if you don’t believe me.) There are also disrespectful, ignorant, hateful, and selfish people in all classes, races, religions, etc. Please reconsider your notion that those who don’t follow a faith, also don’t have morals. I personally follow the rule of “is this beneficial or harmful to myself and those around me,” but do not follow a faith.

  • Annie March 28, 2012, 2:22 pm

    When I was in Italy, I unthinkingly wandered into a chapel while wearing a dress that exposed my shoulders (it was past knee-length, thank goodness). I got a VERY dirty look from an elderly lady who was there to pray. I promptly covered up, and the horrible embarrassment of that moment was a powerful reminder for the rest of the trip to make sure I was properly covered before entering a church.

    Tourists can sometimes make honest mistakes and a swift reminder will snap them out of it, but unfortunately it sounds like the incidents described here don’t fall into that category.

  • Chocobo March 28, 2012, 2:24 pm

    Wink-n-smile, as a regular reader of this site you should know that inappropriate and offensive behavior is committed by people of all creeds, colors, sexes, genders, orientations, and lifestyles. To place the blame on people who do not believe in God is unfair and presumptuous. Lord knows that there is plenty of bad behavior already going on among the congregation without any outside help.

  • Julia March 28, 2012, 2:29 pm

    I can’t believe that tourists could be so disrespectful to the church and be smoking inside. I think that tourists, who visit a church, any church should be very careful to not cross any lines of good behavior. I always try to talk in a low voice if I visit a church, no matter what religion.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith March 28, 2012, 2:41 pm

    Reading the original post and the comments following elicited a sadness in me, as it did in others. It’s not about whether the building in question is a church or a museum, a university facility or a public park. The issue is that excessive entitlement can cause ill will on all sides. Divisive paradigms that create an “us” and “them” mentality don’t do much to solve these issues. Bravo to the churches and the places who are proactively addressing the issue with beefed up security, volunteerism and other forms of interaction. It’s only on the social frontier where divergent groups interact that we begin to establish some commonality of understanding and respect. No one has the right to so conduct themselves that others are inconvenienced or damaged. I cannot say that conduct that gives offense must always be avoided, since diversity of perspective can lead people to take offense for many different reasons. Having said that, however, we should certainly TRY not to give offense by being courteous, respecting boundaries and conforming our conduct and manner to the place, time and people amongst whom we find ourselves to the extent that we reasonably can. Others will hopefully meet us halfway, and some of these negative encounters can be avoided. I must say, it’s a bit maddening to think that we live in the age when being a “provacateur” is a role that seems to be cherished at times by all and sundry. Perhaps if we focused a bit less on flaunting our genius and a bit more on relating well in our spheres of influence, the world would be better off.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith March 28, 2012, 2:47 pm

    Thank you to Ehell for providing a forum where these issues are aired- I did have one more thought. Perhaps the organizations that have drawn such heavy and favorable attendance can capitalize on it by having an orientation as a mandatory part of being in the program. In the example of “love feasts”, those who wish to attend from the community could attend an orientation before the event. The requirement of a little extra time invested might soon sort out those truly interested from those for whom the event is fun, but completely optional. In similar fashion, churches offering tours could require an “orientation” of suitable content prior to allowing entry. It would set the tone and sort the merely curious from those willing to invest a bit of themselves into the process. Museums do this for exhibits, so perhaps it has potential for broader application.

  • L March 28, 2012, 2:53 pm

    I live in an Anglo-Saxon town, and it has religious buildings that is about 1,000 years old (current building, the site itself is much, much older). I also go to university in a city, which also has a historically significant Cathedral (Norman era). I’m nonreligious, so I don’t have any reason to visit them except as a complete history nerd. My general rules are: don’t visit during services, be quiet and respectful (1,000y.o. churches do have the kind of atmosphere that discourages running and screaming, though), and don’t touch anything.

    Most historically interesting churches in Britain (I’ve been round a few) have volunteers staffing public areas, mainly to answer questions like “how old is the chained library?”, “why do you have a statue of a diver over here?” and “why is there a coffin in the wall?”, but also to keep an eye on visitors. The worst behavior tends to be from small children who don’t ‘get’ that churches are places to be quiet and nondisruptive. Parents tend to shut their kids up quickly, possibly because the combination of high-pitched children’s voices and gothic arches creates some kind of hideous aural weapon. *twitch*

    If anyone here is a British church trivia nerd, they can probably guess where I live…

  • chechina March 28, 2012, 2:53 pm

    I’m glad for this post. I’ve also been alarmed at some offensive behaviour I’ve witnessed in churches. Flash photography, blocking the holy water font, the pews, and the candles, loudly talking and laughing. My friends, who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, were recently telling me of being in a church in Italy and having to tell a random family that it was NOT appropriate to put their child in the arms of one of the saints for a photo op! (As a Catholic, I thanked them for that.)

    My own rule is that unless I’m accompanied by a member of that faith, or I am that faith, I don’t go into a place of worship. I just don’t think I should treat them as tourist sites.

  • Tikal March 28, 2012, 3:31 pm

    I’m going to second Shelly and Angela and say that I’m a Pagan and my family are atheist and agnostic, and we’re always VERY careful and respectful of other peoples’ beliefs and sacred spaces. I also wear a lot of gothic-type clothing and, as unfortunately the gothic cross is a popular design, I’m always extremely careful to never wear jewelry with a cross or any clothing with a print that depicts crosses—-simply because I know how sacred of a symbol it is to Christians and I think it’s wrong for me, an unbeliever, to wear it. Also I would add that not every Christian is respectful—-I get a fair number of unpleasant and hurtful comments about my pentacle necklace.

  • delislice March 28, 2012, 3:42 pm

    I went to graduate school in the OP’s city and have visited the living history museum half a dozen times. I’ve also been to my share of lovefeasts.

    1, I can’t believe anyone would take the mugs,
    2, Every one I’ve been to, after a decent interval for eating/drinking, designated persons *do* take the mugs back up,
    3, the plain white thick mugs, with small handles, are as much a part of the lovefeast as the beeswax candles. It’s really not a situation you could “fix” by ditching the mugs.
    4, I really, really can’t believe anyone would take the mugs.

  • Kate March 28, 2012, 4:18 pm

    OP here. Sorry to see that other folks have similar issues. But I am glad to see similar outrage and such over so much disrespect, not to mention those who make sure to be respectful. Also, glad to see some other Moravians!

    For the record, we don’t leave all of the church doors open willy-nilly. During open hours, we have one open door during the week that leads into a lobby. One entrance in the lobby leads into the church chapel, and all other doors in and out are locked. To go anywhere else in the church building normally, you have to talk to the receptionist in the lobby, who will let you in through the church offices. Occasionally, other buildings are unlocked for meetings, weddings, etc, but you can only open one exterior door at a time and you have to re-lock and turn the key back into the receptionist when you’re finished. The only time the entire church is open is during Sunday services.

    That said, we do open the sanctuary during certain times of the day, and we have a trained interpreter stationed there to answer questions and keep an eye on things. Hours that the sanctuary are open are clearly marked outside, and you don’t have to have a tourist badge from the rest of the attraction to visit, either; anyone who has questions can come in during those times. I believe there is a donation box, and I know hymnals and other paraphernalia are removed and locked away during those times. Rather aggravatingly, it’s during actual church services now that they tend to go missing.

    As for Lovefeast, it’s part of the Moravian tradition and serves as a religious expression of fellowship within the congregation. Christmas is far from the only time of year we do them and any person is welcome to come to a service at any time of the year; it’s just become the most popular because of the aforementioned “media coverage”, and as noted it’s become a tradition for many non-Moravians as well. Dieners (servers) do come around with trays to collect the mugs right after the food part of the service is over, so it’s pretty obvious between that and the message in the bulletin that we want them back. The mug deposit…I personally think it’s a great idea, but I know that one wouldn’t fly with the church elders.

    Lenore…depending on the church, you might want to try again. Some of the churches are enforcing the members-only thing. It’s sad when you have to turn your church into an exclusive club just so members can go to their own services.

  • Airlinepass March 28, 2012, 4:19 pm

    I was fortunante to live in Turkey for a year. One story that comes up was the time a tour group visited the city’s largest mosque in the morning, following morning prayers. The group consisted of American tourists. Those who opted to go inside walked in quietly and the women covered their heads without incident. All the tourists behaved in a proper manner and stayed with the tour guide.

    While the tour guide explained the particular features of the mosque, a child, still dressed in his pajamas, found the soft prayer carpeting so enticing for gymnastics that he proceeded to turn 3 cartwheels in succession. The parents didn’t say a word until the rest of the tour group and the tour guide told the boy to stop, in stern hushed tones. The parents then hustled the son out and into the bus. After that incident, future tour group intineraries no longer had stops at the city’s mosque.

  • Roslyn March 28, 2012, 5:01 pm

    I lived in a booming Amish tourist area and it did get old after awhile. I would see people slam on their brakes to pull over to photograph a Mennonite woman mowing her lawn, yes, with a regular lawn mower.

    I was in traffic behind a buggy watching a horrid scene. A minivan was in the center of the road with the center sliding door handing open and people hanging out trying to get as close as possible to the MOVING buggy, that was filled with children by the way, to photograph them.

    I saw on a PBS Amish special a story where a man was plowing his field. The kind of plow that has the 8 mules side by side (really cool to see!) and a tour bus pulled off the road and the tourist filed out to stare, point and photograph him. He pulled his plow over and walked up to these people to say, “I am working, do I come to your work and take your photograph and point at you?”

    Yes, sometimes the Amish would have shops on their farm properties, and tour buses would arrive. However people treated it like the whole property was their little tourist world and would wander around like they belonged there.

    However, you don’t have to “believe” in the God of the Church to show respect and manners!! Is the Church in question in Colonial Williamsburg? If it is, then I can understand, the church on Duke Street is right there in the middle of the tourist hot spots and sees a LOT of foot traffic. It’s a beautiful place though.

  • Drjuliebug March 28, 2012, 5:45 pm

    For what it’s worth, I’m not at all religious — atheist, in fact — but I’m appalled by the idea of tourists disrupting a religious service. Even if religious ideas don’t resonate with you personally, interfering with a worship service in the name of “tourism” is as rude and offensive as it would be to barge uninvited into a private home because you’ve heard that the family living there owns beautiful heirloom furniture. And stealing from any historic site — a church, a museum, a national park — isn’t any different from helping oneself to the aforementioned family’s china and silverware on the way out.

  • Angela March 28, 2012, 9:31 pm

    Wow Roslyn, you brought back a memory…on the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia. My family had stopped at an overlook, run around and played with some frisbees and were taking a break, when an extended Mennonite family (there are many Mennonites in this area) stopped by also. All the girls were dressed alike except for the colors of the dresses, the boys ditto. One of them picked up a frisbee and I told them it was fine, the kids could play with them and they were running around having the greatest time. It was fun to watch them.
    Later my mom (a loving woman but not a thoughtful one) regretted not having taken pictures and was shocked when I said that we would have needed to ask the family first.

  • Leigh March 29, 2012, 2:37 am

    And just to clarify my comment, I’m sure the original poster has very little control over they type of drinking vessel the church chooses to use during the Christmas Eve service, so I don’t see why you chose to be that condescending toward her over something that’s out of her hands.

  • mechtilde March 29, 2012, 4:39 am

    Most of the churches I know are kept locked if no-one is there, and any valuables are kept locked away- often off-site because churches are so easy to rob. Theft of lead from church rooves is also a massive problem. Sadly churches are seen as an easy place to steal from and get away with it, from pilfering petty thief tourists to well organised criminal gangs.

    People can be so horribly disrespectful of others’ worship, just because it is taking place in a historically important building. My father once went to a service in the third oldest church in England (St Paul’s Jarrow in case anyone is wondering) and was deeply saddened and offended by the way that people came in and wandered round taking photos and getting in the way whilst a service was going on. This is repeated at historic places of worship throughout the world.

    As for the OP, I think that guided tours at set times might be the only way to go with this and keep people under control. Using thrifted mugs or paper cups might also be a good idea if thefts are a problem.

    It is sad that this is necessary.

  • Eloe March 29, 2012, 5:04 am

    Once I went on a bus tour of a part of Ukraine (from Poland). When we got there, it was Orthodox Easter. At one church that was our stop the Easter baskets were being blessed, but the guide said we can go into the courtyard (where the blessings were actually done) and maybe peek inside as long as we stay inconspicuous. This didn’t stop one couple from going in so that the husband could pose for a photo in front of the altar. There was a priest at the altar at the moment. Doing a service.

    At another tour, of Syria, we visited a Christian monastery. The guide opened the church door, saw that there is a baptism going on and wanted to go away, but the people attending the baptism waved us in (people there were generally very open and friendly towards foreigners). So the guide said particularly that we should consider this an honour, stay very quiet and keep to the back of the church, which was very small. As far as I’m concerned, it should not even have to be said. However, one of the ladies marched straight to the fount, leaned in as close as she could and began snapping away at the child (2 or 3 years old and already quite upset because of the whole process) and its family.
    Luckily, the guide marched the whole group out immediately. The lady reasoned it was OK, as the people allowed us in.

  • Kate March 29, 2012, 5:30 am

    @Wink, you must have met some rude atheists. Please don’t tar us all with the same brush.

    I’m an atheist and I have absolutely no respect for organised religion as a concept, yet I wouldn’t go barrelling around in a church/temple/mosque being silly. I recognise that while it has zero relevance to me, it is a sacred site for some and should be respected as such. I’ve spent time in churches for weddings, funerals etc and have always been respectful of the building and those who believe in the religion. The only thing I don’t do is participate in the prayers but that’s not bothering anybody.

  • The Elf March 29, 2012, 6:59 am

    NicoleK, the word “heathen” has multiple meanings in modern English. By context, it is clear the site is not referring to followers of the old Norse Gods, German Neopaganists, or Asatruar.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 29, 2012, 9:07 am

    Chechina: “My own rule is that unless I’m accompanied by a member of that faith, or I am that faith, I don’t go into a place of worship. I just don’t think I should treat them as tourist sites.”

    My rules is that if I feel the Spirit of God there, then it’s a religious site, and I can worship there, regardless of the religioius affiliation. This does not preclude me from admiring the architecture or artwork, which were, in my mind, sacrificial gifts of the artists and builders. I feel a spiritual kinship with them, and am uplifted by their work, as it touches my soul.

    That said, there are parts I don’t believe in, and I leave them alone. If I attend a service, and I do not feel comfortable participting in a particular aspect, I sit or stand respectfully until that part is over, while I worship in my heart.

    Truly, I’ve come to learn a lot about God from learning about how others worship him, and so I do feel there is value in the “tourist” aspect of visiting other places of worship. Attitude makes all the difference, though. If one goes in with an attitude of “Isn’t this quaint? Let’s take a picture,” one will learn nothing except, perhaps, the date the church was built and the name of the architect. If, however, one goes in with an attitude of there being some TRUTH to be discovered there, one will probably discover it, and in the process, make friends with the people there. I believe that EVERY religion has some truth to be discovered and shared, and by searching, I come closer to God.

    So, even if I’m not a member, nor accompanied by a member, I do not feel bad about visiting, so long as I go with an open heart, to learn and share a fellowship of spirituality. If I’m just going to look at the pretty things, I might as well just go to an art museum, built for the purpose.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 29, 2012, 9:14 am

    Chocobo said: “Wink-n-smile, as a regular reader of this site you should know that inappropriate and offensive behavior is committed by people of all creeds, colors, sexes, genders, orientations, and lifestyles. To place the blame on people who do not believe in God is unfair and presumptuous. Lord knows that there is plenty of bad behavior already going on among the congregation without any outside help.”

    I didn’t mean people who don’t believe in God. Some of my favorite people are athiests. No, I specifically referred to those who talk about the Flying Spagetti Monster. These are the people who don’t believe in God AND who think that anyone who does is an idiot, worthy only of mockery. They have no respect for anyone’s religious beliefs, and mock them as believing in something truly absurd. That is NOT respectful.

    Atheism, by itself, is not disrespectful or problematic. Everyone has the right to believe what (or not) they will. But they do not NOT have the right to mock others for those beliefs.

    The Flying Spagetti Monster meme is cruel and hurtful to anyone, of any religion, who believes in a supreme being of any sort.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 29, 2012, 9:25 am

    Shelly, Chocobo and others:

    I am truly sorry that I offended. I did NOT mean to offend you. I did not mean that atheists are rude. I meant that those who mock religious folk were rude. After going back and re-reading my comment, I do see how it was badly worded, and offensive, and apologize for that. Please believe it was not meant as such.

    Again, some of my favorite people are atheists, including dearly loved family members. None of them have ever mocked others for their religious beliefs. Their respect is part of why I love them.

    I have, however, encountered plenty of people who do mock, *specifically* those who “believe in the Flying Spagetti Monster.” It’s a sore point with me, because I’m sick and tired of being called an idiot every time I speak on spiritual matters with these people. It especially hurts when I’m on a religion forum, and they hop on, troll, call us all fools, and leave. It’s similar to the way the tourists treated the church.

    Such people do cause trouble, and those were the ones to whom I was referring. I’m sorry I wasn’t more specific in my original post. Please forgive me.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 29, 2012, 9:31 am

    Thank you, Gramma Dishes, for understanding!

  • MsDani March 29, 2012, 10:30 am

    The most appalling behavior I have ever seen is at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Although this a HUGE tourist attraction people need to remember that it is the final resting place of those who served in the United States Armed Forces. This past summer I visited with two friends with one of our goals being to see the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers. This activity is breathtaking and emotionally moving. During the ceremony you are supposed to remain silent but people talk …loudly, play around and generally ignore the fact that this is not a public park. This particular day a guy decided to talk on his cellphone and only ended his call after several people asked him to be quiet.

    Speaking of “tourists” when I was a Resident Assistant I would allow parents and students to look in my room to get a feel of how to set up their daughter’s room. Being that I had lived in the same room for 3 years I became quite good at arranging my belongings to optimize space. I often had parents who would come into my room, open drawers, my refrigerator, search through my closet and sit on my bed.

    When visiting other places I try to remember to respect the space like I expect others to respect my space.

  • Em Leigh March 29, 2012, 11:55 am

    This reminds me of what happens in my village. I live in the same village as a famous architect. There are many of his home here and people do live in them. There are tours that go around and look at them and the tourists that take pictures and just look are fine. It is a little odd to have someone staring at your house, but expected. However some tourists will go into your back yard and others actually will look in the windows. One family I know was talking to a friend on their porch and a tourists walked up and started looking into the house through the open door.

  • The Elf March 30, 2012, 6:42 am


    “…one will learn nothing except, perhaps, the date the church was built and the name of the architect.”

    You say that like it is insiginificant!

  • Cat Whisperer March 30, 2012, 9:32 pm

    Angela, with regard to taking pictures of people who we regard as picturesque or quaint or photogenic, and getting permission from these people to take their photographs:

    Nearly 20 years ago, my daughter and I found ourselves on the receiving end of some of that kind of attention, and I can tell you that until that moment, I had never considered what it might feel like to be the subject of a hoard of shutter-clicking tourists.

    My daughter, as a toddler, was a living doll. She had huge green eyes with long, thick lashes, reddish-gold hair that had a beautiful natural wave to it, and just beautiful skin and features. I don’t know how she turned out to so darling, husband and I are plain and ordinary, but the genes all came out right for daughter.

    We were at Seaport Village in San Diego and had just bought some popcorn from a vendor by the wharf. There were pigeons in abundance and daughter was throwing them popcorn, which brough more pigeons, and daughter was enchanted with all the fearless birds. She was smiling and glowing with pleasure, and we were coaxing them to eat out of her hand.

    Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a bus stopped short and a hoard of Japanese tourists came spilling out, and by golly my daughter and I were the picturesque locals they all wanted to take pictures of!!!! For a period of about ten minutes we were surrounded by Japanese tourists with cameras, taking pictures of my daughter and I feeding the pigeons!

    It was astounding. It was also, in a way, kind of objectifying– it was like we weren’t real people, we were something to be photographed as a sort of personification of Southern California residents. It was dehumanizing in a way that I’d never considered, and having travelled a fair amount, I’d taken my share of photographs of local people in photogenic situations without thinking twice.

    Never again after that could I take a picture of a local person without asking their permission and at least trying to get some sense of them as an individual with an entitlement to not be reduced to a tourist attraction.

    It was a really weird feeling and not pleasant. More like bewildering and kind of objectified. Very, very strange.

  • Enna March 31, 2012, 5:53 am

    It’s bad the way tourists behave like this. I hope any thefts were reported to the police as hymbooks are not suvenoirs are they? As for the silverplate that was stolen to me that smacks of an opoturnistic thief maybe under the guise of a tourist? One church I attended for a bit the Bishop’s wife warned me not to leave my handbag in the main room of worship as theives to come in and steal and this wasn’t even a tourist area. I think there needs to be some volunteer “bouncers” or if not ask one of the local police officers/constables to walk around the building – if there has been a theft then it could be a subtle reminder for people to behave. Places of worship and historical importance should be kept secure anyway: regardless of tourism or not – a lot of old churches in the UK have been target by metal theives. My mum was very quick to get a member of staff/volunteer about one incident she saw. It was at a runied castle by the sea and some people were walking and climbing on the walls. It was hardly safe.

  • gingerose March 31, 2012, 11:00 pm

    I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother at the Mission Church in San Diego, and was utterly appalled when a family of tourists leisurely strolled through the sanctuary in the middle of the service. Did they think this was part of the historical attraction? Weren’t the coffin and the tears and sniffles a clue that this was a real funeral Mass?

    A few months later my nephew was baptized in the church at another of the historic California Missions. At that location the doors were closed and the center aisle had a rope draped across it with a sign that a private ceremony was in progress. But as soon as the rope was taken down, the tourists swarmed in.

    I guess some people just leave their common courtesy at home when they become tourists — if they had any to begin with.

  • Lucy April 2, 2012, 11:35 am

    We were raised Quaker. Historically, Quaker men don’t remove their hats during worship unless somebody stands up to speak, and they don’t remove their hats in front of authority figures. This got us thrown out of Westminster Cathedral in London (not during worship hours, and we were in the information-and-gift section, not the knave itself). Yes, it’s a church, but we paid to get in and we weren’t interfering with services. I sort of get the church’s perspective on this, but if you’re going to run in pretty blatantly as a tourist attraction, compromises should be made.

    The fact is that, if part of your livelihood (as a town, church, historic building, etc.) depends on tourism, you’re going to give up some control. How much and to which side you want to tip the balance of this must be determined by the people involved, but you can’t reap the benefits without incurring the costs.

    Let’s not start slamming atheists, either. Religious people are just as likely to mock other religions as atheists are to mock religion in general–zealots and intolerants can be found everywhere.

  • JaynieBeth April 2, 2012, 3:43 pm

    My family is Native American, and as a child, I often spent time living on a North Carolina reservation with my grandparents. The main town in the reservation is a huge tourist attraction, as well as providing basic services such as any town might provide (schools, churches, banks, etc.). It was quite common during the summer months for my grandmother and I to be stopped on the street so tourists could take our picture. It is traditional for our church to be left unlocked, as a symbol that all are welcome to worship at any time. As it is a very poor church, there is nothing of much value inside except for a wood burning stove – it is just a single room with homemade wooden benches with slatted backs. Since the building dates from the 1780’s, it is a frequent stop for tourists. It never ceases to amaze me to find that yet another tourist has carved all manner of unspeakable things into our walls, benches, even the rough-hewn pulpit! Names, dates, even profanities are commonly found, necessitating expensive repairs.

    Yes, it could all be solved by simply locking the door, but this would go against some of the basic precepts of our congregation. It’s sad we have come to a day when people have lost respect for places and things that are sacred to others.

  • Aje April 10, 2012, 8:01 am

    While I am apalled by the behavior exhibited by those “tourists”, I have one suggestion regarding your post: There’s a fabulous new invention called paper cups, maybe you have heard of them? Yeah, they don’t cost as much as mugs, and you can throw them away…neat, huh?

    Ach. Rude. Essentially you´re calling them ignorant or foolish. Is it their fault people are stealing and being disrespectful?

    Firstly, it´s THEIR property. It shouldn´t be stolen, period. You´re theory ¨Oh well if you´d just buy some paper cups, you wouldn´t have to worry about that, would you?¨ doesn´t erase the fact that it´s their property.
    Secondly, it saves paper and money.

  • justme June 23, 2012, 5:02 pm

    Even if the tourists weren’t aware that they were in a place of worship, and merely thought it was an historical building, they should have known better than to a) smoke inside, and b) throw cigarette butts on the floor!

  • Janet Marie May 26, 2013, 4:01 pm

    I’ve been in many Catholic churches all my life as I was baptized Catholic as an infant. Bad behavior in churches especially in those that are tourist attractions is not just limited to the tourists, some of those those for Mass and/or ceremonies can be just as rude. Respect is to be shown especially if the rules state only certain types of picture taking, no food, no drink, minimal noise, dress appropriately etc

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