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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 }
  • Jojo March 28, 2012, 5:52 am

    It’s a bit of a stretch to call these people tourists. Unless of course you’re going back to the era of the ‘Grand Tour’ where earnest young men pillaged the artifacts of ancient civilizations to take to home as souvenirs ( the Elgin Marbles are a case in point).
    Inconsiderate, disrespectful vandals is perhaps more appropriate. The only way to deal with this is have everything in the building locked and have guided tours of the building -one person guiding, another observing the group. There is absolutely no excuse for disrespecting another person’s place of worship. Having a tour would also mean that the church could raise funds by charging for the tours or requesting a donation, most people don’t begrudge paying a couple of dollars for a short introduction and question and answer session. As for the cups, charge a deposit refundable upon return of the cup at the end of the ceremony.

  • Cat Whisperer March 28, 2012, 6:21 am

    Some years ago, my husband and I visited the island of Maui in Hawaii. We took a tour to Hana on the island.

    Hana is somewhat isolated on Maui; to reach it, you have to drive a road that’s very narrow (sometimes only about a lane wide) with steep drops on the sides. Husband and I elected to take a tour that was driven in a van by a tour guide rather than driving ourselves.

    Maui is very beautiful, well worth the drive. A particular reason I wanted to visit Hana was to see the gravesite of pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh, who is buried in the cemetery of the Palapala Hoomau church in Hana.

    When we got to the church, which is quite isolated, our guide took great pains to make sure that everyone on the group stayed together within his sight and we weren’t allowed to go near the church itself. Our guide told us that the pastor and congregation of the church had had enough of tourist bad behavior and had finally, reluctantly banned all tour groups from the church itself and was trying to ban visits by tour groups to the gravesite. He told us about outrageous behavior by tourists who seemed unaware that the church was an active place of worship and who treated it like a public museum. He said that the Lindbergh gravesite had been vandalized a number of times, and that tourists who self-drove to Hana would treat the church and grounds like a picnic park. There had also been thefts and vandalism of the church itself, and very intrusive and rude behavior by tourists during church services and activities.

    It was very sad to hear this. I cannot understand people who fail to understand that a church and the grounds attached to it are places of reverence and that visitors should behave accordingly. And vandalism and theft at a church are so far beyond the pale that I can’t even imagine the kind of people who would behave like that.

  • --Lia March 28, 2012, 6:26 am

    I’m glad the security is better now. Otherwise, my first word of advice was to stop thinking of these people as tourists and begin thinking of them trespassers and thieves. When you put the right word on something, it often clears the way to knowing what to do about it. In this case, that’s beefing up security. It might also include calling police and prosecuting. Libraries and other public buildings sometimes have searches at the doors where they go through backpacks to see if people are trying to steal. I’m not suggesting anything that drastic, but it would be within your rights.

    Here’s another example of inappropriate behavior on the part of non-church members.

  • aka Cat March 28, 2012, 7:10 am

    The only historical churches that I’ve seen successfully guard against the more ignorant tourists, were the ones who had someone stationed at each unlocked door. Maybe you could rotate volunteers to sit at the main door and greet visitors on the busiest days?

  • SS March 28, 2012, 7:21 am

    I was in the Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal a few years back. It is a huge ornate cathedral and a tourist attraction but it is also a functioning church. There are signs at the door asking people to be quiet and respectful of the people using the church. I was quietly inside looking around at all the artwork, when a tourist loudly walked into one of the pews where a worshipper was quietly kneeling and praying, and walked up to the person and began taking his picture and tried to give him ‘directions’ on how he wanted the person to sit or kneel in order to get better pictures of him in the pew. The person looked up at him furiously and I heard him loudly whisper “What is wrong with you? This is a church and I’m praying. Leave me alone.”

    I have no idea why that rude tourist thought that the people praying in the church were just there to give him a photo op?

  • Laura March 28, 2012, 8:15 am

    I think one solution to the mug problem would be to collect a deposit. I recently went to a chili fest where they handed out metal spoons. I had to give a dollar to get my spoon and that spoon was proof that I paid for the event. At the end of the event there were two people standing by the exit collecting spoons and passing out dollars. It was advertised before hand as such “$5 dollar entrance fee, $1 spoon deposit.” All it took was 2 volunteers.

    I also live in a tourist area with many historical landmarks. It sounds as if your congregation isn’t that large, but maybe you could start a volunteer “welcoming” group made up of people from the congregation and people who want to support the local history of the town. Then, post them at the entrance to the church to let people know right up front where they can and cannot go. It might take a bit of organization on the part of the congregation and community, but might help out in the busy tourist months! While still rude, many tourists here just don’t know any better and it is nice to have a volunteer politely let them know what is and is not acceptable.

    Just a few ideas!

  • Anon March 28, 2012, 8:19 am

    Re: SS’s comment about Notre Dame in Montreal – they now charge admission (presumably during times outside of mass). This may be one way of dealing with “tourists” who are not really interested in the religious aspect of the structure, and to bring the budget back into the “black”!

  • MoniCAN March 28, 2012, 8:40 am

    On a tour of New York City, a few friends and I stopped in to see Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on a Saturday morning. It was packed with tourists in the back section. I was shocked to see there was a large wedding occurring in at the front of the church, but the building was still very much open to tourists. Great example of “the world does not stop for your wedding!”
    Anyway, my friend was massively offended that there was an open gift shop and the back of the church as this was a place of worship, there shouldn’t be a store, what a disgrace, blah blah blah. She didn’t seem the least bit hesitant to take several photos of the church (with flash) and continue to complain loudly, though. Sometimes tourists’ brains fall out.

    –Lia is right. Sometimes people use the guise of “tourist” when they are really just trespassers and thieves.

  • Lynne March 28, 2012, 8:44 am

    As a tour guide and a member of an historic church, I sympathise.

    The worst is when a wedding or funeral is taking place during usual “tour times”. Just try to convince some tourists that even though the sign says we are open for tours, religious ceremonies take precedence.

    And yes, the bride/groom/family of the deceased WOULD mind if you just “took a peek” during the ceremony.

  • Daisy March 28, 2012, 8:58 am

    People in general can be very rude while on vacation. I’ve seen similar behaviour when touring cathedrals, cemetaries, temples, historical buildings, even archeological sites. Cigarettes are thrown on the ground or floor (I always wonder if the Smoke Fairy is expected to clear them away), empty packages and pop cans are tossed around like confetti, voices are loud, and photos of the “natives” are taken without a single thought about whether the poor subjects want to be photographed. People stare, gawk, and point, and let their children run around as though they were on a playground. It’s important to remember that your vacation spot is someone else’s everyday life. A big boost in respect and empathy would serve all of us very well.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 28, 2012, 9:00 am

    I’ve visited many historical churches over the years, and always thought they were places of worship, still in use by congregants. Maybe some of them weren’t; I don’t know. But I always treated them that way, as hallowed ground.

    I have a suspicion that the people who would treat a church (whether in active use or not) with such disrespect are the same people who laugh at religious folk and their “Flying Spagetti Monster” God. If you do not believe in God, why should you feel any reverence for a place of worship? You’re just there to look at the artwork.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 28, 2012, 9:02 am

    Even if you are just there to look at the artwork, and “treat it like a museum,” what in the world makes people think that this is appropriate behavior for a museum?!

    In a museum, you look at the displays, interact with the workers in a respectful manner, keep your hands to yourself, and take only brochures that are given to you, pictures IF allowed, and anything you bought at the gift shop. And no smoking. Smoke damages the artwork.

  • Wendy March 28, 2012, 9:08 am

    My husband and I visited Colonial Williamsburg and historic Jamestowne on our honeymoon recently. Part of this, of course, was visiting churches, one of which is still active. I was impressed with how the congregation handled things. They had about four or five trained members on hand, one or two at the entrance and the rest in the sanctuary ready to answer questions and herd the idiots. 🙂 We were carrying water bottles and the woman at the front intercepted everyone with drinks and gave us a place to set them while we were inside. While inside you didn’t get the impression they were watching you like a hawk…but they were. They were polite, they were informative…and they controlled the situation beautifully. Areas they didn’t want you were roped off/locked/etc. and if someone tried to climb under a rope they were politely but firmly told they couldn’t do that. When we left, my husband and I dropped donations into the donation box by the door as a way of thanking them. (The church at Jamestowne isn’t used as such anymore and there were two vigilant park rangers on hand to keep everyone in line.)

    It might be worthwhile for your church to take needed steps. Invest in some locks, get volunteers to man the church at certain hours…and even have a couple people outside the doors during private ceremonies to keep people away. I understand this is inconvenient, but with a little foresight, you might find yourself with donations from the visitors who enjoyed themselves.

    One question, though…for the love feast…is it necessary to have actual mugs for the coffee? Why not use paper or Styrofoam ones? I know it’s not “homey” but you won’t run the risk of having your mugs taken. Otherwise, maybe have someone stand at the door collecting mugs as people leave…

  • Moralia March 28, 2012, 9:12 am

    I like taking a deposit for the mugs. Another option may be to check with the larger thrift stores such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. They often end up with more mugs than they can sell and I’m betting you could score a really good bulk deal…plus most of the mugs will probably have random logos on them so will probably be less prone to pilferage than a nicer mug. Or, you could advertise a “mug drive” along with the event.

  • Cat March 28, 2012, 9:18 am

    The Church of Latter Day Saints allow tourists into only a few of their buildings and you are greeted at the door and escorted through the building.

    I once took some relatives from the Mid-West to Palm Beach to see some of the churches there. A funeral was taking place at one of the churches, so I took them around to see the koi pond and grounds. One of the women said loudly, “Why don’t they go on and bury this guy so we can see the church!” as we passed a group of mourners. I don’t usually believe in correcting guests, but I reminded her that they were burying someone they loved and would not be hurrying the service because it delayed her agenda for the day.

    I think a good many tourists are not themselves religious people and just don’t think of it as anything more than a tourist attraction like Disney World. I reminded a friend to remove his hat while we were in the Cathdral in St. Augustine, FL. He asked me why he should take off his hat. I told him that, if he wasn’t Jewish, he could not wear his hat in church.

  • Anon March 28, 2012, 9:33 am

    Several years ago I got married at a small old church in the downtown pedestrian zone of a well-known German city. The church was typically open to tourists, and I didn’t know how many people would wander in during the ceremony. Imagine my surprise when I came around the corner to enter the church in full wedding garb, only to encounter a very large man “guarding” the entrance, assigned there by the pastor! I just about died laughing – a bouncer at my wedding! The giggles cut down on my nerves, and the bouncer was mostly effective. When I looked at the wedding video later, I noticed several people sitting in the back who are complete strangers! At least they were respectful and quiet. I didn’t know beforehand that we’d have a bouncer, and I still don’t know if the invited guests had difficulty getting in or not!

  • CH March 28, 2012, 9:53 am

    I greatly enjoy visiting art-filled and/or historic churches, and have visited many lovely ones in England and Italy during my trips to those places, as well as some in the U.S. (visiting during open hours when there is no worship service although if possible I usually offer a prayer). However, I am also an active church member here at home and so understand that the places I am visiting are primarily sacred spaces. That understanding underlies my behavior as a visitor. Not everyone has that understanding, as is obvious in the OP’s story.

    My advice would be to educate them. Have tours at set times (charge a modest admission price), with each tour starting with the statement that this is a house of worship and these are the behaviors expected. Lock the doors at other times (I assume as you said security has improved this is already being done). During worship have appropriate signs outside and have the ushers give those visitors who do come inside a bulletin, explaining your worship tradition and expectations, while they are showing them to a seat.

    Holiday services are another issue–most Christian congregations struggle with the sudden overflow of Christmas and Easter. In your case, with the Lovefeast, is there any way you could use paper cups (not sure if your faith allows the use of disposables?) at the public service and also have a private, non-advertised Lovefeast for the congregation?

  • Shelly March 28, 2012, 9:53 am

    Wink-n-Smile, your comment is absolutely offensive and hurtful to me. I am an atheist that loves to travel and has a masters in art history – so as you can imagine, I spend a lot of time in churches when I am abroad. I would never dream of acting in a manner described in the post, nor would any of my heathen friends that you seem to find so distasteful. Class and etiquette have nothing to do with religion – as a matter of fact, the worst-behaved tour group I have ever encountered was from a church group – but do I think they were boors simply because they are religious? No. Nor are people boors simply because they aren’t. Just because someone does not believe in your god does not mean that they don’t follow the golden rule or have manners. I am appalled by your accusations and I feel like you owe many readers here an apology, as I know I am not the only one you made feel terrible after reading your hateful words.

  • Angela March 28, 2012, 10:03 am

    @Wink: “I have a suspicion that the people who would treat a church (whether in active use or not) with such disrespect are the same people who laugh at religious folk and their “Flying Spagetti Monster” God. If you do not believe in God, why should you feel any reverence for a place of worship? ”

    Please don’t go there.

  • Lenore Q March 28, 2012, 10:05 am

    Ah, the lovefeast. My family is Moravian, and we used to attend every year at my grandmother’s church. It got so we had to get there earlier and earlier every single year on Christmas Eve to get a seat ahead of the visitors, then it got so popular that the church held a service the week before Christmas Eve for members, and we began to go then. But, eventually, the tourists won out, as that service also got as packed as the Christmas Eve service, and my grandmother eventually could not sit in the church for three hours anymore to get a seat. It was a really sad loss of a holiday tradition for all of us.

  • Phoebe161 March 28, 2012, 10:06 am

    Places of worship are not the only places treated with disrespect by tourists. When we visited New Mexico a few years ago, a state tourism brochure warned people not to wander into the Native Americans’ homes! I also work at a major university, & it is amazing what people will do to the academic buildings during a football game. Some fans seem to think that it is OK to trash a restroom, dump hot coals on the ground or in a dumpster (both can cause fires), wander around in the buildings, & let their children run around unsupervised. Although the buildings are made as safe as possible, unauthorized people shouldn’t be wandering through areas that are used for lab or animal research–many of these labs contain chemicals, radioactive materials, or biological agents that the general public should stay away from. But, some feel that because 1. purchased a ticket, 2. donate money &/or 3. the university is state-property, they have a “right” to do whatever they want. No, they don’t.

  • The Elf March 28, 2012, 10:11 am

    I love to visit historic or beautiful churches, even though I am not Christian. I just love the architecture and history! But it is important to do so in a way that is respectful to the church and the congregation. I don’t have to believe in God to respect the worshippers and the building.

    Posted visiting hours are nice, as are pamphlets that give a history (or point out interesting features) as well as provide limits on where a visitor should not go. It’s rather obvious that the attic should be off limits, but adjunct rooms may not be so clear. I like odd stairwells and niches, so I’m always wandering off the beaten path if I think it is acceptable. It’s usually pretty clear where public transitions to private. Velvet ropes, closed/locked doors, or signs are helpful to mark off areas. Church employees or volunteers can also gently steer visitors in the right direction.

    But church members and signs can only do so much. It behooves the visitor to behave well and respectfully. If I see that services (and especially weddings or funerals!) are ongoing or starting, I’ll postpone my visit or leave that particular area (in the case of churches with multiple chapels). If there is no service, I go by “art musuem” behavior – speaking in hushed tones, observing but not touching, etc. They also need to recognize that few churches are public property – if too many people are unreasonable and rude, the owner can close it off to visitors.

    Tourism can be a boon to a church in terms of visibility and fund raising. But it can also be a bear. With both sides cooperating, there’s no reason it can’t work well.

  • Erin March 28, 2012, 10:14 am

    In high school I was lucky enough to go on a class trip to France. Our French teacher, who was leading the trip, made sure to tell us very seriously in one of our meetings before the trip that we’d be visiting historic cathedrals, like Notre Dame, and that they’re still actively in use, so we’d better be respectful or we’d hear about it from her. I’m glad she did, because it’s stuck with me ever since.

  • lafred March 28, 2012, 10:40 am


    I am an atheist, and I would never think of disrespecting some else’s place of worship – or a musuem, for that matter. Just because I don’t believe doesn’t mean I don’t recognize that others have a right to their beliefs, and that I should respect that right. Please don’t make it seem as though the rude, inconsiderate slobs who behave this way in a house of worship are “the same people who laugh at religious folk and their “Flying Spagetti Monster” God.” If by this you mean people who do not believe as you do, you are wrong.

  • NicoleK March 28, 2012, 10:46 am

    Speaking of offending religions, members of the Asatru religion are often referred to as heathens and might find your blurb at the top of the page rather impolite.

  • Calliope March 28, 2012, 10:55 am

    Wink-n-Smile, I’m not religious, but I would never show disrespect in a place of worship, because I’m not a brute. I’ve visited famous churches around the world–because yes, I’m interested in art, and also in history and religion–and I’ve been annoyed by the people talking loudly and posing for silly photographs. It’s never occurred to me to speculate about these people’s religion or lack thereof, though. Rude people come in all stripes, and all denominations.

  • Puzzled March 28, 2012, 10:56 am

    This comment will probably be lost to moderation or else I have been banned; however, I’ll give it another try. Some people tend to lose their minds when they become tourists. No matter where your are “touring,” it would still be nice if the people the OP refers to could display good manners whether it is a church or not. Why go to tour an area if you’re just going to act like an idiot? Do you learn anything new that way?

  • gramma dishes March 28, 2012, 11:03 am

    In defense of Wink -n-Smile, I don’t think what she said was intended the way some people here have interpreted it. I think she was being sarcastic and that her words express what some visitors might be thinking (in other words – what’s going through THEIR minds at the time), not how she herself feels about it at all.

    And of course we all agree that regardless of our own religious choices, we would ALL be respectful of any and all houses of worship. Boors may be non-religious or extremely religious. It’s a character thing, not a belief thing.

  • GroceryGirl March 28, 2012, 11:04 am

    I feel the pain of tourism. I live in NYC and my morning commute is regularly interrupted by people who feel the need to come to a complete standstill on a crowded sidewalk in order to take a picture. (Not that I’m saying you can’t do that but step to the side people! I have to get to work!) I’ve seen some really really bad behavior which, I think, has something to do with NY’s reputation for being aggressive, as if people are trying to fit in. All in all, people like these schmucks at the OPs church ruin things for good tourists who can be respectful of their surroundings.

  • LonelyHound March 28, 2012, 11:13 am

    In Alaska, especially in the Southeast area, there are lots of gravesites from the Russian trappers way back when. If anyone has been to these site you know that instead of headstones there are teired houses built on top of part of the grave. Through placards next to some of the graves it is explains that the tiered houses can indicate how many people are buried in the grave. Example: One of the graves is of a father, mother and their young son who all died of sickness. On top of the grave is a three tiered house. The graveyard is an attraction because the houses are very colorful and artfully decorated. However, to preserve the sanctity of the site, it is a final resting place for many souls, there are metal bars that form a boundary around the graveyard and form paths throughout it so you can look at the site further back. I have been there a few times and it always amazes me that people cross the bars and take pictures while standing on someone’s grave!

    Another time a tourist did not obey boundaries in Alaska is came back to bite her- quite literally. Yes, I am talking about Binky the polar bear. For those that do not know a tourist wanted a close up picture of the polar bears at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. She crossed a 50 foot divide and two fences to get right up next to the cage bars. Binky was displeased with her not obeying the rules and took a bite out of her leg. She survived and Binky became a bit of a folk hero and cautionary tale. Sometime boundaries are set up for very, very good reasons!!!

  • LovleAnjel March 28, 2012, 11:17 am


    I am an athiest. I don’t believe in any supernatural anythings. I do, however, respect people and the places they hold reverence for. I would not even think to engage in any of the behaviors described in this post. Neither would any of my non-believing friends.

    I have a feeling that most of the tourist/thieves people encounter are religious, and in the US are likely members of one of the dominant Christian religions. Rudeness/propriety are not at all related to one’s religious status.

  • AnotherMoravian March 28, 2012, 11:27 am

    I have a sneaking suspicion I know the submitter of this post, and I grew up in the same church as this person. Oh the stories we’ve heard/can tell.

    As to the mugs, consider this. When you are at anywhere not your house and are handed anything not disposable for use in eating/drinking, do you automatically assume that the host/hostess intended for that item to be a souvenir to be taken home for free? When the host/hostess has not said that they are gifts to be taken home? No, and taking that item anyway is stealing. That is the end of it.

    More information for the mug collection: everyone is served a mug of coffee and a bun, a blessing is said, and then everyone (except the choir, which is singing) eats. After the choir is done singing (a long song or multiple shorter songs, time enough to eat what has been given), the servers come back out to collect the mugs. Putting a deposit on mugs isn’t really feasible as the coffee mugs that the church uses are becoming more and more difficult to find replacements for; I believe they have to be specially ordered these days. Why don’t we get different mugs? Tradition, and the fact that replacing the mugs have not yet passed the church’s threshold of pain to force a change despite the tradition. Besides, as the Lovefeast is meant to be a “meal” of brotherhood and fellowship, a deposit doesn’t really fit with the spirit of what this is supposed to be.

  • Pat in Toulouse March 28, 2012, 11:36 am

    I recently visited the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. The behaviour of the many tourists from all over the world was very upsetting. Wearing shorts and a tank top in a temple – no. Goofing around and taking pictures of your friends hugging the Buddha statues – no. Holding up over a hundred people waiting in line to visit the sanctuary on the top level of Angkor Wat because you want a picture of yourself on the steps leading there – no!
    I travel a lot and visit churches regularly and I must admit that most of the tourists in Europe seem to know how to behave in churches. For example, I attended an international Sunday service at Notre Dame de Paris. The cathedral stays open to tourists during services, I knew that and was expecting the worst. But actually, no. It was a wonderful service, the many, many people made hardly any noise and we were able to “blind them out” quite easily. I can only recommend it.

  • Lori March 28, 2012, 11:37 am

    This isn’t limited to churches, but as in the Amish example above, also occurs with private residences. I live in Columbus, OH and we have a large, quaint old-world neighborhood called German Village that is a popular tourist destination. I don’t know what visitors expect…some kind of theme park, perhaps? In reality, German Village is a regular neighborhood (in fact a very desirable one to live in for its picturesque qualities and its proximity to downtown) consisting largely of residences, parks, and the usual coffee shops and restaurants. A close friend of mine used to live down there, and he said people sometimes found tourists wandering their yards or gardens or knocking on their doors asking to tour their homes. He was frequently stopped while walking his dog by tourists asking where “Germantown” was. He’d just look around and say “You’re in it.”

    Oh, and count me among the Godless heathens who nevertheless manages to have a sense of propriety and appropriate behavior. Go figure.

  • Library Diva March 28, 2012, 11:48 am

    OP, I believe I visited your church several years ago as a participant in the Vernacular Architecture Forum. If so, I want to thank you for opening your doors to us. Visitng your community was an amazing experience that I never would have had without the conference, and I appreciate you making us welcome. I’m sorry that not everyone you invite in is respectful of your church. I think that’s terrible, too.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with religion (I’m an agnostic atheist and certainly endeavor to be respectful at any religious building I visit), just rudeness, cluelessness and selfishness. I worked in museums for several years and saw quite a bit of that. Any rule you laid down, there was a perverse desire in some segment of the visiting public to break it. Didn’t matter if the rule was there for the public’s own safety, not that of the artifact: they were determined to try to balance their child on the unstable piece of furniture for a photo, or walk up the poorly lit stairs.

    The most outrageous incident I saw was at a multi-structure historic site where I interned. From the office, I saw a couple drive up and head out to the barn instead of the main house (you know, where you pay…). I followed them out there, and the woman had actually climbed over the ropes and was LYING DOWN IN THE REPLICA BED. I mean, she was under the coverlet and everything. I told her to get out of there immediately. I refrained from telling her that the mattress was stuffed with corn husks or some other organic vegetable material (I forget now) and that we had mousetraps laid throughout the barn, which frequently “caught” something, and that I sincerely hoped she enjoyed her nap with the mouse poop. But it was awfully tempting.

  • ferretrick March 28, 2012, 11:51 am

    “I have a suspicion that the people who would treat a church (whether in active use or not) with such disrespect are the same people who laugh at religious folk and their “Flying Spagetti Monster” God. If you do not believe in God, why should you feel any reverence for a place of worship?”

    Because whether I personally believe in it or not (I don’t), religion is an important part of the human condition and force in history? I might have appreciation for that fact?

    Religious belief has nothing to do with manners and I resent your implication that it does.

  • Vicki March 28, 2012, 11:58 am

    I’m an atheist, and when I want to see a church (because some of them have very impressive art and/or architecture) I treat it with respect. As someone above noted, the way those people were behaving wouldn’t be appropriate at a museum either. I think some tourists believe that the Fair Folk will follow along behind and pick up their trash.

    More directly related to the specific question, a lot of Christian churches are open to the public much of the time, in part because they think someone might want to pray. I suspect some of the wanderers (not the thieves, but the ones who are filling spaces) heard somewhere that weddings are open to the entire congregation, and missed that this means that it’s considered okay to attend the wedding of a casual acquaintance, not that they can stroll into any church in the world during a wedding.

    LW might want to look into what some of the churches in Harlem whose services include gospel music do about this problem: how much space is there, and how if at all to sort out the respectful visitor who might share at least some of your beliefs from the tourist who thinks “hey, free concert.”

  • Outdoor Girl March 28, 2012, 12:12 pm

    When I was in university, there was a beautiful Catholic Cathedral in the city. Because it was so beautiful on the outside, I desparately wanted to see the inside of this church. So I enlisted one of my friends who was Catholic (I’m not) and we went to a service. I got to see the inside; the church got a couple of dollars for their coffers when the collection plate went around; and no one was the wiser that I was a ‘tourist’.

    It used to be that churches were never locked. People could go in and sit, to pray, reflect, get out of the cold, whatever but now? Many small churches are locked unless services are ongoing. It’s a shame that they have had to resort to this to prevent theft and vandalism.

  • Meghan March 28, 2012, 12:34 pm

    I live in Boston, where the Old North Church is, naturally, a place of historic interest to people. Many people don’t realize that it’s still an active church (Episcopal, in case you’re wondering). It’s a National Historic Landmark, and the church does an excellent job of allowing tourists in to view it. Areas you aren’t allowed to go in are roped off, and there are loads of volunteers. You can drop in if you’re walking the freedom trail and sit in the pews and listen to a little talk about the church, and they ask for a “voluntary donation”. But if you want a more in depth tour (like going up where the lanterns were hung) you have to pay for a tour. As I recall it’s a minimal amount. Though I imagine the money they get allows them to maintain the premises and keep appropriate staff. The place is positively packed with tourists, especially during the summer and fall. I’ve brought lots of out of town friends on the freedom trail, and inevitably to the Old North Church. One time we weren’t able to go in because there was some kind of service going on. It wasn’t unexpected, as my BF was baptized there, so I knew it was still an active church. My guests were a little disappointed, but understanding. I overheard some tourists kind of whining about it, because it was during posted visiting hours. They were genuinely surprised when a staff person told them the church is still active.

  • Shea March 28, 2012, 12:36 pm

    @Wink-n-Smile “I have a suspicion that the people who would treat a church (whether in active use or not) with such disrespect are the same people who laugh at religious folk and their “Flying Spagetti Monster” God. If you do not believe in God, why should you feel any reverence for a place of worship? ”

    Well, to use an Ehell-approved phrase, what an interested assumption. I’m an atheist who has been to many, many churches and mosques in Europe, North Africa and Central America, and just because I don’t happen to believe in God doesn’t mean I feel no reverence in such places. I do. It’s just probably of a different sort than that felt by a believer. To suggest that just because one is an atheist one will behave badly in a house of worship is quite offensive.

  • Kitty Lizard March 28, 2012, 12:48 pm

    It’s the kids that kill me. I was once in a museum that was displaying some truly exquisite ancient
    Japanese china and pottery. It was displayed on tall stands and people were wandering around enjoying
    it when (and I still find this unbelievable) the museum was invaded by a class of rambunctious
    KINDERGARTNERS!!! These kids came in like an invading army, screaming, running around, crashing
    into the display stands, and generally creating havoc and mayhem. It turned out the kids were supposed
    to be at the kids’ museum, but the teacher thought the exposure to the Japanese porcelain would be
    “good for them”. They couldn’t even see it because the display stands were too high for the little rug
    rats. Luckily the museum director got them out in a hurry before disaster struck and peace and quiet

  • AS March 28, 2012, 1:17 pm

    I totally agree with Shelly.
    Wink-and-smile, there is no need to think that people who don’t share your religious belief don’t have the basic decency expected of normal human beings. (BTW, it was not clear who or what you meant by “God” esp. given that you were talking of churches, but let me also point out that there are many extremely religious and nice people in the world whose place of worship is not the church!) As the admin and many other people said, not respecting a “tourist attraction” that is still in use has nothing to do with any particular religion or sect, not is it restricted to churches. If a person is genuinely there for the architecture, don’t you think that they’ll try to preserve it regardless of their religious affiliations or the lack of it? It is the selfish boors who have no sense of manners who destroys properties. I suspect that they’d behave this way even when they are visiting a famous University in session, or the Amish communities or old houses for example. You said that people should treat historic churches like museums; I have seen many people touching things they are not supposed to touch in the museum, or letting their children touch. IMHO, the only thing that keeps more people from behaving like boors in museums is the tight security they have there that religious places usually don’t have (or try not to have for the sake of people who are there for prayers).

    On the topic, I remember a time when my fiancé (then boyfriend) and I, both of us were adults, had gone to visit a very pretty Jain temple. My father specifically told us to be extremely polite and no PDA- not even holding hands, because it is a place of worship and some of the local people don’t like PDA in places of worship.

  • Miss Raven March 28, 2012, 1:27 pm

    As an Atheist, I am finding excruciatingly distasteful the multitude of suggestions that people who aren’t religious are going to naturally act boorish and ignorant in places of worship.

    You don’t need God to have manners and you don’t need religion to have respect. All you need are parents who parent and a basic understanding of the world around you. It’s my belief that a lack of either of these leads to most boors acting the way they do.

    I’ve myself been to a wide variety of places of worship under an equally wide variety of denominations. I’ve been to services, I’ve been as a tourist and I’ve been with friends. I would never dream of treating these places with anything but the utmost respect, and that goes double for the people inside. And I know that my friends, of whom the vast majority are equally Godless, do likewise.

    Perhaps some of you need to check your own prejudice.

    That said, I love the idea of charging a small deposit for a mug. You get to keep using the mugs that are special to you, and if a few get up and walk away, they’ve essentially been paid for. Collecting mugs and giving back deposits would be a great job for a few teens who are itching to be involved in some way.

  • Kirsten March 28, 2012, 1:33 pm

    I resent the suggestions that the badly behaved tourists must be atheists because atheists don’t know how to respect religious structures.

    For the record, I am atheist and while I have no respect for religion, I have absolute respect for people’s right to believe what they want, and for the importance of not wilfully trampling over other people’s sensibilities, no matter how ridiculous I might privately think they are. For example, I have visited numerous Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries. I think it’s ridiculous that women are asked to cover their arms above the shoulders and have to wear skirts in those places – I don’t think there is anything unwholesome or improper about human bodies. But I cover up willingly when I am there because visiting such places is a privilege and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to comply with the wishes of my hosts for the short time I am there and taking advantage of their hospitality.

    Bad-mannered, thoughtless, selfish people are everywhere, regardless of religious belief of the lack of it.

  • bansidhe March 28, 2012, 1:35 pm

    Wink-n-Smile: You are way out of line with some of your commentary. I’m a lifelong atheist and have no problem behaving in an appropriate manner in historic religious buildings. I agree with everything Shelly said above on this topic. Whether someone is religious or not has nothing to do with the behavior in the OP.

    Back to the topic at hand: Even less traditional religions are not immune from boorish tourists. You wouldn’t think all that many people would wander in to a Unitarian Universalist church in Arizona and poke around, but it happened at the church I grew up in. The church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and architecture buffs apparently just couldn’t resist.

  • LilyG March 28, 2012, 1:36 pm

    My beautiful old church is on the city’s historic register and so we have many people who want to get married or their children baptized there even tho they aren’t congregants or Christian. We got around this by charging a fee for weddings and requiring a member of the church as a sponsor for baptisms.

    This helped a lot and since people were more invested in the ceremony, they took it seriously. One wedding member put his Starbux cup on the altar rail (!) “for just a minute, hon” during a rehearsal. I tried to explain but he clearly thought I was over-reacting.

  • LilyG March 28, 2012, 1:37 pm

    The church is also so packed at Midnight Christmas Mass and Easter with tourists the rest of us go to Christmas Day and Easter Vigil Mass.

  • abbey March 28, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Wink n Smile, you need to meet more of us Atheists. Your statement implies that a Jew can not visit a Mosque and find value. I am a non believer that finds church buildings, books, idealogies, etc very very interesting. When I visited very old churches in Europe or Mosques anywhere, I always cover my head with a plain scarf. I DO NOT touch anything or even take flash pictures. While I do not speak for other Atheists, I will happily tell you how and why I feel reverence in a place of worship yet do not believe in any diety. Humans, and the complex stories and traditions they weave, can be awe inspiring. I respect other’s spiritual paths, but for me, I find knowing that humans “created god”, and did so in so many different ways, in so many different times, in so many different cultures to be a lovely example of how we are so different from the other creatures on Earth. It is not that complicated for a non believer to feel reverence for all of human kind and the psychology that motivates them to create structures, songs, etc in the name of worship. Shame on you for making such a statement that someone not of that, or any, particular path can not feel reverence for something larger than him/herself. Not believing in god does not mean I do not believe in humanity.

  • Ashley March 28, 2012, 1:45 pm

    That’s so uncalled for. I can’t believe people would do stuff like that, in a church of all places. I can’t believe people would do it anywhere!

  • jen a. March 28, 2012, 1:54 pm

    @ Wink-n-smile

    Did you put much thought into your first comment? Because I hope you realize that a lack of faith in a particular religion does not equate a lack of etiquette . I mean, by your logic, if I don’t believe in a particular god I shouldn’t feel any “reverence” for a place of worship associated with that god/gods. Does that mean that if a Christian visits a Hindu temple they can’t be expected to be respectful, since they don’t believe in their gods? One doesn’t have to believe in something to respect other peoples’ belief in it. Religious people are also perfectly capable of being disrespectful, even in their own houses of worship.

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