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.