Prayer Before Eating

by admin on September 18, 2017

While visiting my 81-year-old father, he extended an invitation for us to go to dinner, and he requested that I invite 2 other parties (family friends). My father typically extends this invitation when we are all together, and he always insists on paying the bill.

At the Mexican restaurant, we chatted and munched on tortilla chips and salsa. Before the entrees were served, Guest One (a family friend) announced, “Would ya’ll mind if we said grace?” She said that her husband would lead the prayer. I was caught off guard, and I felt more awkward when she announced that we should join hands. (I don’t want to touch someone else’s hands after I’ve already started to eat. Yuck!)

I’m not sure of the religious affiliation of Guest Two sitting to my left, but she seemed a little uncomfortable as well. Regardless, we joined hands and the husband said the prayer. I have no idea what he said because I wasn’t tuned in. My feelings of discomfort, being put on the spot by a guest in a public restaurant, completely soured me. My daughter and I just stared at each other across the table until we were permitted to commence eating our meal with the “Amen”.

My father wasn’t actively tuned in simply because he doesn’t hear well, and he often lags behind any conversation. The saying of grace was NOT a practiced ritual in our home growing up. I will also add that Guest One and her husband know that I am not religious. During a previous conversation, I explained to them that I did appreciate the kindness they’ve shown my parents, but that I did not believe what they believe. So this expectation of joining them in the saying of grace is even more bizarre.

This is not the first time that I’ve been expected to either participate in saying grace or delay eating while other guests say grace in a public restaurant. When dining out, my sister who is Christian, will instruct me to wait to eat because her 10-year-old son is going to say grace. Another awkward situation because now I don’t want to disappoint a child by not complying. So my nephew meanders through a prayer which usually has nothing to do with being thankful for the meal.

As a guest in someone’s home, I am always respectful of the host’s desire to say grace. I will sit quietly, but would prefer not to hold someone else’s hand right before I eat. But I comply simply because I don’t know how to politely reject taking someone’s hand.

My questions are:
“How do you decline involvement in the saying of grace and holding hands when at a public event?”
“If you don’t participate in the prayer, but just sit quietly, do the folks are either side reach over you to hold hands?”
“What is the expectation of religious people when they insist that others follow their personal rituals, specifically public prayer? For the religious, isn’t it slightly bothersome that friends/guests are complying only because they’re put on the spot and stuck in an awkward situation?”

I feel like this expectation is inappropriate and even bully-ish to a certain degree. Being religious isn’t a free ticket to be ill-mannered, but it often seems that way.

All perspectives are appreciated. Thank you. 1227-15

The answers to your questions boil down to issues regarding who is hosting the event more so than issues of religion.   For example, if your father is the one who invites people to join him for dinner and he’s paying for it,  as the host he has privilege of leading his guests in a food blessing or not.  I think the friends of the family usurped his role as host and made an executive decision for all the guests when they should have quietly said grace for their own food and left it at that.

How do you decline involvement?   You sit up straight, fold your hands in your lap and wait for the host to commence eating.   The host/hostess sets the schedule for when to eat by eating first.  That is the guests’ cue that they can now chow down, too.  And if your ind host has chosen to pray along with someone else, you still follow your host’s cues and wait to eat because to begin eating before your host does is rude.    If your host routinely says grace prior to eating, I think you need to respect that if you have accepted the offer of hospitality.

Regarding Christians, I am not aware of any magical advantage to making a circle connection via touching in order to pray over food and Christians who believe there is are simply wrong.    It’s not like the prayer/blessing is flawed or invalid if the diners are not physically touching.   I pray over my food more often than not but I’m not legalistic about it.   My food is not going to rot in my belly or fail to nourish me if I choose to not say a prayer and I certainly don’t feel the need to touch people in the process.   To be honest,   I don’t think 99.5% of Christian will think twice about someone who chooses to not pray or touch.

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Dominic September 18, 2017 at 6:53 am

Had the host been more immediately aware of what was going on, he could have said, “We’ll be happy to pause for you to say grace.” And that would’ve been fine. Expecting everyone at the table to participate and insisting all hold hands was taking it too far on the part of the grace-saying guests. They should have offered anyone to join them, but otherwise should have quickly said their grace and moved on to the meal.

I would not have joined hands with anyone, and if those sitting on either side had reached out, I might have simply said, “No, thank you. I’ll just wait until you’re done praying.”

Reply

clairedelune September 18, 2017 at 7:13 am

As far as the hand-holding part, the easiest dodge might be just to make it sound like you’re doing your fellow diners a favor by not holding their hands–“oh, i’ve already started eating chips and my hands are all salty; I’m not going to force you to hold them!”

Reply

Gena September 18, 2017 at 7:32 am

I don’t regularly pray over my food, but I know a great many people who do. None of them would dream of trying to force the entire table into this. When their food is placed in front of them, they bow their head momentarily and that is it.

Reply

SamiHami September 18, 2017 at 7:38 am

I agree with Dominic. I would feel like a fraud participating in a prayer like that and I would be annoyed with the person who instigated it. I have no problem with people peacefully practicing their religion, but I am not religious and don’t feel I should have to fake it to make other people comfortable. I like “No, thank you. I’ll just wait until you are done praying.” It’s simple, honest, straightforward and neutral.

Reply

Darshiva September 18, 2017 at 11:53 am

As someone who does pray, I like your response, too. It’s polite, and allows me my faith, while keeping true to yours (including atheism or agnosticism).

Reply

Calli Arcale September 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm

You shouldn’t have to feel like a fraud. This is why I tend to favor quiet personal prayer in restaurants — my beliefs should not have to inconvenience others and certainly should not make them feel excluded. But if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you have to go along anyway, my advice is to try to look on it as humoring the crazy people rather than being a fraud. 😉

That said, I like your response. Simple, straightforward, neutral, and also complete — it does not invite discussion into what is frankly nobody’s business but your own.

Reply

JD September 18, 2017 at 8:42 am

Even as a Christian who prays over every meal, including breakfast, I can’t blame OP for being uncomfortable. As Admin says, it is the host’s place to ask others to say grace. As a guest, I just quickly bow my head and say a silent “thank you” and let that be it, if it’s obvious the host is not going to ask the blessing. I don’t presume to direct the other guests and the host to say grace. I recently had guests in my home who, like me, pray over their meals, but they hold hands. I don’t care for holding hands, myself, so when their family held hands, I simply folded mine in front of me, lightly resting them on the table. Before I closed my eyes, I noticed that the rest of my own family did the same as me. No one fussed about the fact that some of us didn’t join in holding hands. I think, OP, that simply folding your hands in your lap and waiting quietly while they said grace would work. You could always add, “Please, go ahead,” and then sit silently.
I actually think it’s cute to see a little one say the prayer, but I’m no happier than anyone else to have my food get cold while someone prays a long-winded prayer at meal-time, especially if I’m the one who worked hard to get the food cooked and on the table while hot.

Reply

Girlie September 18, 2017 at 8:49 am

I am Christian, and I do say grace before my meals, but my husband and I would never usurp someone else’s time to do so. When we are out with friends who are not Christian, we quietly bow our heads and one of us will whisper the prayer without disturbing anyone else.
I would never think twice about someone in our circle of friends choosing not to say grace with us, and honestly – as long as they don’t call attention to, neither will we.
Also: I’ve been “Southern Baptist” my whole life. I don’t get the hand-holding-before-eating thing, and I doubt I ever will. It spreads germs and it’s gross, so – no, thanks.

Reply

Barensmom September 18, 2017 at 9:59 pm

I was also raised Southern Baptist, and I agree with you, Girlie. We never held hands during prayers. If it’s something that being touted as a custom of the denomination, it must be a very recent addition.

Reply

Queen of the Weezils September 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

The explanation I got from my born-again father-in-law is that the holding hands indicates fellowship and joint purpose. Of course, he said this while cursing is out for not holding hands and saying “the damn grace”, so maaaayyyyybe he isn’t the best source!

Reply

Sally September 18, 2017 at 9:40 am

We have some fairly religious Christian friends who have us over their house occasionally. They always say grace before a meal but they, knowing that we are not Christian, always say a more generic grace when we’re there (mentions G-d but not Jesus). We always appreciate their sensitivity to our beliefs.

I agree that since they were not the hosts of the dinner, it was inappropriate for them to take it upon themselves to have and lead grace before the meal, including instructing you as to how it should be done (holding hands). I hope your friends at least made the grace non-denominational, since they knew you were not practicing members of their religion.

Reply

Darshiva September 18, 2017 at 11:58 am

Although I said down below that I did not think it was rude of them to *request* grace, you are right that they should not have declared who would lead it and instructed people how to join in, with the hand-holding, and all.

Then again, once they had received approval for the requested grace, it probably made sense to them that they should be the ones leading it, instead of the host, as they were the ones who wanted it, and the host didn’t start praying, first.

So, if you’re the host, either take control, or don’t let it bother you when you let someone else take control after they asked, first.

Reply

Cat2 September 18, 2017 at 9:42 am

Basically:

1) Your host says grace, you go along because this is their house and when in Rome and all that. You feel that strongly about not participating, don’t accept invitations or quietly at another time discuss your unease in participating but still wishing to accept and reciprocate hospitality and ask what compromises might be available. Would they be okay with you sitting quietly and not participating while they led the grace?

2) Anybody else anywhere else asks you to say grace, you say “No thank you, but please go ahead for yourself.”

Politely, warmly, with nothing but good cheer and a willingness to wait. If they try to insist, “No, really. Not for me, but please go ahead for yourself.”

If they insist after that, you have a couple of options. a) excuse yourself to the bathroom while they say grace. b) go ahead and say grace and mentally note never to eat with these people again, and be clear to your father why you will not in the future. c) tell them you’ll participate but only if they will participate in your pre-meal ritual of your faith which requires [insert non-dignified but not outlandish action]. make them put their money where their mouth is on the “inclusiveness”. Choose whatever you feel most comfortable doing.

3) Grace rarely takes more than a minute or 2 and it is a very minor inconvenience to wait while they do it, and make them feel included in the meal along with their rituals – done for and by themselves only.

If you feel the 1 to 2 minutes is really an imposition, I suggest that you review how you approach life and what small courtesies make life easier and more pleasant all around. Not just for when you grant them for others, but to recognize when others are granting them for you with no real request in return, just an expectation to be treated likewise.

Reply

PJ September 18, 2017 at 9:54 am

I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. Very well put.

Reply

ladyv21454 September 18, 2017 at 11:04 am

“Insert non-dignified but not outlandish action”. Darn – you mean I can’t ask them if it’s okay for me to perform a human sacrifice before the meal?

Reply

PJ September 18, 2017 at 9:50 am

Sometimes people get too used to being around others who are just like them, and forget that something as normal as holding hands and saying grace before a meal is not ‘normal’ to someone else. The guest likely thought it was a nice, unifying and inclusive gesture rather than something so worrying.

I’d give the guest the benefit of the doubt and assume that was her mindset. It would have been perfectly fine for OP to keep her hands on her lap rather than hold hands. He/She is fine as long as they keep that “yuck” comment to themselves.

It was weird that the guest took over a host-type role in suggesting grace. She would have done better to invite others with the chance to opt out, and then just pray quietly on her own. In that case, others would do best to just wait it out, and start eating once everyone is ready.

So for the specific questions: how do you decline?
Just keep your hands on your lap. If you’re pushed, then say ‘no, thank you, I prefer not to hold hands.’ Don’t do it like your repulsed by the thought of it, even if that is how you feel.

I see you specifically commented about this being in a public place. The location really doesn’t matter. No need to be embarrassed by a fellow diner’s behavior when it isn’t dangerous or disruptive to the rest of the place.

Do others reach over you?
I’ve never seen that before! Usually, they will just keep their hand on their lap, or hold it out with the palm up. No big deal. Reaching over a diner would be weird.

What is the expectation…
… when they insist that others follow: well, I guess if they are insisting, then I suppose their expectation is that others do follow. 😉 This is an unreasonable expectation and it isn’t rude to politely opt out. On the other hand– a question you didn’t ask: ‘what is the expectation when they *invite* others to follow’ is: they hope others will join in. The know others may not.

For the religious, isn’t it slightly bothersome that friends/guests are complying only because they’re put on the spot and stuck in an awkward situation?
If by ‘religious’ you mean ‘faithful’ rather than ‘ritualistic’, then I can answer from personal beliefs and experience: Yes, it is. As a Christian who prays before meals, I wouldn’t ask someone to go along with the actions unless that reflected the person’s true disposition. “Going through the motions” is pointless and, honestly, a bit insulting.

I agree that the expectation is inappropriate.

I’m sorry that you find many people using their religion to be ill-mannered. That has been very much the opposite of my experience, at least in my generation.

Reply

flora September 18, 2017 at 10:58 am

Urgh… This is why I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere. Knowing myself, I’d probably go along with it to keep the peace but you’d better believe I’d be cleaning my hands afterwards!

Reply

ladyv21454 September 18, 2017 at 11:00 am

I try to be as tolerant as possible of other people’s religious beliefs and customs. If I am somewhere that grace is being said, I will bow my head and sit respectfully. However, I draw the line at anyone trying to make me conform to their beliefs – and that includes being forced to say grace, especially when it involves holding hands. (Like the OP, I am not comfortable holding someone else’s hands after I’ve started eating.) Jeanne gave the best advice – you sit quietly and wait for the host to begin eating. If someone reaches for your hand, inform them in a respectful fashion that you choose not to participate. As Jeanne said, the prayer does not become invalid just because people are not holding hands.

Reply

DaDancingPsych September 18, 2017 at 11:21 am

I have a very dear friend show’s husband is a member of the clergy. When invited to their home to eat, I am well aware that they pray and they hold hands. They also know that I am not religious. I have no problem sitting quietly while the prayer is said; while I may not be convinced that we are talking to who we think we are, the sentiments are nice. I am not a germaphobe, so the holding hands does not bother me. This has always seemed like the best response to these situations. However, I think a “no thank you” would be fine, too. This may make my host reconsider future invitations, but we have all made our choices then.

Reply

CW September 18, 2017 at 11:46 am

Growing up my family did not say grace before meals, but my husband’s family did. He didn’t continue the practice on his own but since his parents and brother’s family does, I’ve always just lowered my head and waited quietly through the 30 seconds of blessing. No one holds hands but I imagine it’s just as easy to fold them in your lap as someone reaches for you. I don’t find that to be a rude reaction because some people just don’t like to be touched in general.

Now that our daughter is in a church daycare, they teach them a blessing to say before their meals and she has started the practice at home. She tries to do it on her own but it doesn’t always come out the best so we hurry it along so everyone can eat (she’s 2 and the blessing is quite long for a toddler).

Reply

Darshiva September 18, 2017 at 11:50 am

The guests asked, “Would y’all mind if we said grace?”

You could have said, “We’re not religious and would rather not, but please feel free to say a private grace,” and then you wouldn’t be stuck in this situation.

They did ASK, after all, and it is OK to say “no.”

Now, had they said, “We are going to say grace, and everyone is going to hold hands and participate,” that would have been very rude, indeed.

Please don’t blame them for your lack of a spine to say no. Next time, either speak up, or don’t hold it against them when you give into their request, since it was, indeed, a request and not a demand.

Reply

Aleko September 19, 2017 at 1:24 am

But most people would take that question to mean that the guests were simply asking if everyone else was comfortable if they said grace themselves; I certainly would. (Many languages have two distinct words for ‘we’: one that includes the person(s) being spoken to, and one that doesn’t. Must make for a lot fewer misunderstandings.) Surely nobody here would have said ‘no’ to that request. But it turned out that what they actually intended was to organise everyone into active participation in their specific – and relatively unusual – religious practice, which nobody could have guessed from the question asked. If they really wanted to do that, they should have asked ‘Will y’all join us in taking hands and saying grace our way?’. And my bet is that OP and others would indeed have said ‘no thanks, but do go ahead for yourselves’. Luffing people into participating in one’s particular rites is always rude.

Reply

Tanz September 21, 2017 at 6:53 pm

I can see what you are saying, but I know I would have been quite taken aback by the question: I come from a country that isn’t all that religious so the idea of someone wanting to say grace – especially in a restaurant! – would be very odd to me. And I would *never* consider that my ‘we’ they meant me as well; that would seem so far beyond the pale as to be rude. I can imagine stammering out “that’s fine”, thinking that it was something that just they wanted to do. It would never occur to me that they’d want me to join in.

Reply

Darshiva September 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

Regarding hand-holding during a prayer – if you’re going to participate in the prayer, but don’t want to hold hands, then fold your hands in front of you, so it’s obvious you are also praying. If anyone tries to hold your hand, anyway, cough. Into your hand. Then fold your hands again. They won’t grab your hand after that.

Reply

Dee September 18, 2017 at 12:02 pm

“Oh, I’ll just wait quietly while you say your Grace.” And then try not to eat the crunchy food during the ceremony. You can leave your hands in your lap/fiddle with your napkin to keep them busy and unavailable for holding. They’re your hands; if you don’t want to share them, just say, “No, thank you.”

I find the “no, thank you” response great for when I’m asked for my email address at the till at certain stores. It flusters the asker momentarily and gives me time to divert the conversation to something else and get it off the track. And it does work at dinner tables, too.

The hand holding part is not unhygienic if hands are washed before dinner, as they should be. It is a ritual at one home we dine at and it’s never squeeved us out. If the hands are dirty they are going to be contaminating more than other hands, such as serving dishes, chairs, table, and so on. The holding hands part isn’t the problem, it’s that the hands aren’t washed before sitting up at the table.

This issue isn’t a Christian thing, btw. It’s a pushy-people thing. I would bet these same dinner guests are annoyingly insistent about other things, too. Best to nip all things in the bud asap.

Reply

Tanz September 21, 2017 at 6:54 pm

It’s definitely a pushy people thing. The religious aspect is a red herring I think.

Reply

Kat September 18, 2017 at 12:09 pm

When I’m at a meal where a prayer is happening, I bow my head, shut my mouth, and think whatever I want 😛

Reply

lakey September 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

I agree with every point that Administrator made.
As a Catholic, I actually think that trying to make non-believers participate in prayer or rituals that they don’t believe in trivializes those rituals. I’ve never been in a situation where someone tried to make non-religious people pray. Where I am, those who don’t pray simply wait quietly.
I also hate holding hands with people. It’s not a religious matter with me, it’s a matter of personal space.
In my church people hold hands for the Lord’s Prayer. I go out of my way to sit away from others so I don’t have to do it.

Reply

Aleko September 19, 2017 at 1:35 am

Lakey, I couldn’t agree more. I really can’t understand the mind-set of people who make non-believers ‘join in’. If they think dragging baffled/embarrassed/resentful people into performing their rites is somehow going to convert them, they have a shockingly poor grasp of basic psychology; and if they think this compulsion is in any way pleasing to the Deity, theirs is a religion I don’t want to have anything to do with.

Reply

Pat September 19, 2017 at 3:52 pm

lakey, I think it’s fine not to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer. If you don’t want to, it’s up to you. I don’t think anything of it although I do it myself (except when I have a cold or something like that).

Reply

Jayhawk September 18, 2017 at 12:25 pm

I want to pod what Girlie said.

Reply

Anonymous September 18, 2017 at 12:34 pm

My solution to this would be to simply not accept invitations for meals from these people going forward. If they extend an invitation to a meal at their home or at a restaurant, I’d decline, and counter it with a non-food-centric activity that they’d enjoy; for example, “Oh, I can’t do dinner on Friday evening, but how about a visit to the art gallery on Saturday afternoon?” If they ask why dinner won’t work, then I think it’s okay to tell the truth at that point; that you’re uncomfortable with an enforced public pre-meal prayer, and if they make an issue of it, they’re not really good friends.

Reply

iwadasn September 25, 2017 at 8:10 pm

It wasn’t really forced, though. They asked beforehand if everyone was okay with it; OP had the chance to say no but chose not to take it.

Reply

Vic September 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm

I used to have a coworker who prayed before every meal. Our team went to lunch together nearly every day. So we were aware of this. But he would just bow his head and pray silently before eating. He didnt announce it first or expect anyone else to practice their beliefs the same way he did. No one was ever made to feel uncomfortable or like they had to join in. If you weren’t paying attention, you might even miss that he did this. I felt like he was showing that he respected our beliefs just as much as we respected his. Unless you’re having dinner with your pastor, I think this is the most respectful way to handle praying in a restaurant when you’re dining with someone other than your spouse and children.

Reply

NostalgicGal September 18, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Here it is almost a given if it’s a group sitdown meal there’s going to be grace. And the main flavors of faith here are make a circle and hold hands and bow head and someone says a grace.

If I’m asked to say the grace, before people circle or at least hold hands… I will tell them to sit to the table (with their food). Then I prefer a bowed head, folded hands and the grace is said directly over the food (my flavor of faith and how I was taught). I’m not asked to do the honors very often, but the others have respected the way I wished to give the grace. (at least one was given)

When I first married we had a difference of faith, they would stand behind their chairs, bow heads and someone said the grace. I went to slip into my chair before they started, they looked at me, and I politely said I say my grace differently. I was quiet while they did theirs, then as they took seats, I quietly did mine. They were quiet as I finished up, and when my head came back up we passed food. I appreciated the respect they gave me and I tried to respect their ways as well.

The expectation of grace should be mentioned early, before people start to eat. If you are not comfortable with that form (the take hands) then politely let the others know. If you choose to not participate, yes, by all means get up and back up a step. Stand behind your chair if the others are not doing that, hold the back of the chair lightly, and dip your head in respect. If hand holding isn’t your thing but you might have to anyways, keep a wet-nap in your purse or one of those tiny dispensers of hand sanitizer. Don’t wave it but do the cleaning discreetly.

Reply

NoviceGardener September 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

This is an interesting topic! One particular happening from my own memory sticks in my mind. As a young child (five or six) I was good friends with the daughter of our local vicar, and was invited over for a sleepover one night (just me and her). Neither of my parents are particularly religious, and prayer was never a part of our household growing up.

Anyway, I’d been taught that you don’t start eating until everyone is sitting down. So there we were at dinner, and everyone had sat down, so I picked up my knife and fork. At which point my friend said “we haven’t said grace yet.” I was really embarrassed, but I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t know what I was doing, so I rolled my six-year-old eyes and said “I know. I’m just cutting things up, I’m not eating.” I then proceeded to neatly cut a carrot in half, and then laid down my knife and fork, sat back, and waited until Grace had been said. Haha! I felt like a real idiot, but even at that tender age it taught me a valuable lesson: Take your cue from the host. I’ve done that ever since and it’s never let me down. (My friend’s parents, btw, must have noticed my awkward moment and my clumsy attempt to cover it, but were gracious enough to ignore it. We had a nice friendly dinner chatting about trees, rivers, and school).

Anyway, thought you guys might get a kick out of that story. 🙂

Reply

GeenaG September 18, 2017 at 1:35 pm

I feel its religious bullying. There’s a difference to me between saying “let’s all say grace” and “I would like to say grace”. It sets people up to be the churlish ones if they don’t wish to participate. My response would probably be “please, feel free to do so” while I just sit there.

Reply

Kay_L September 18, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Many years ago when I worked as a musician director in the Catholic church I would attend meetings with other Catholic music directors from around the Diocese.
We would usually meet at a restaurant, although not always. The person who organized these lunches went a little too far in preparing for a prayer before eating.

We would arrive and there would be stapled pages at every seat with a script for the prayer that would include some rather involved responses.

None of it was any official part of Church Doctrine. Part of the reasoning was that since we were all involved in planning and music for the rituals of the church that having some sort of ritual for grace was to be expected.

But, I tell you that I hated it with a passion. Hated it being foisted on me. Hated how it was scripted. Like, we’re in a restaurant rather conspicuously reading some nonsense in unison.

Another time, when we met at a church in a lounge, he actually had a tape recorder to have us do a call and response psalm. Typically, the way this is done is that you hear a cantor, or in our case, the recording, sing the chorus and then everyone repeats the chorus and then the cantor does the verses with everyone coming in on the chorus every time.

Well, he chose a piece where the entire refrain was already a set of two identical phrases. And the two phrases were repeated each time as the chorus. It was so annoying and monotonous that I wanted to run screaming from the room!

Did I mention that this nonsense would take 20 minutes or more?

Ugh!

Just because I worked in music and liturgy didn’t mean I wanted to attend a mini-worship service before I could eat my sandwich.

Reply

NostalgicGal September 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm

It’s one thing to be in a house of worship and doing a prayer service. It’s another to sit to food and say a few words of thanks.

I think I would have passed my papers back up to the head of the table and if they had something to say about it, I would have flat out asked when this eating establishment had been turned into a consecrated house of prayer?

Anything further and I think I would have left the table and not returned. If a few more did so, it might get it across. I believe more than three minutes to say a grace is overkill. (in the Jewish faith there is a long form of grace with individual prayers said for the bread, the wine, and the rest of the food. That doesn’t take long. Lighting candles for Shabbat, doesn’t take long. This sounds like a lot longer and totally out of line….)

Reply

Pat September 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Someone should have taken this person aside and said something.

Reply

staceyizme September 18, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Those who don’t wish to pray should not be made to feel uncomfortable if they decline to do so (whether they are guests or hosts). But- hosts and guests needn’t decline their own customary rituals. They must simply refrain from making participation a requirement or abstention a source of either inquiry or censure. I think this is similar to the rule about what people eat or decline to eat in social settings. Most of us wouldn’t presume to comment on someone’s drinking unless they were disruptive. We wouldn’t chide someone for not eating vegetables or for passing on bread, dessert or anything else. Similarly, we should not comment about or chide those who don’t pray. (Or those who do.)

Reply

KenderJ September 18, 2017 at 2:32 pm

I have a couple of responses in these situations, depending on the people and the situation. Usually, mentioning Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV) does tend to solve the problem and doesn’t seem very rude to me.

Ehell dame mentions following the lead of the host, but what if there is no “host” as in everyone is paying for themselves as I imagine the situation might be with OP eating out with her sister and nephew? Personally, if I’m hosting or everyone is paying their own way, I would go ahead and eat and let others eat or pray as they like. If the OP feels that her nephew’s feelings might be hurt, she could explain to him at a time not fraught, that different people believe different things and that’s ok. It’s never too early to teach children that this world is made up of all kinds of people and that there is no “one, true way”.

Reply

Julia September 18, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Christian here (flashes ID). This is 100% a question of manners, not piety. I pray over my food, but I would not pressure anyone else to do so, and announcing, “Oh, does anyone mind if we pray?” or something of that nature is inappropriate unless you’re all quite sure of each other’s positive response. If I were at a church function, for example, I would seriously eye-roll anyone who got bent out of shape when the minister led us in prayer.

On the flip side, if I were at a large table where not everyone knew everyone and someone (besides the host) piped up with, “Oh! Let’s pray!” I would (as nicely as possible) suggest instead that we could just have a quiet moment when those who wanted to pray could do so however they liked, or just sit there a minute (and by that I certainly don’t mean long enough for the food to get cold).

Too many religious people, IMO, think they’re leading by example when they display their acts of prayer, charity, abstinence, food prep, etc., in a way that makes others feel unwelcome, ignored, or just plain uncomfortable. I would never want someone who was doing their religious action within their own personal sphere to be confronted with rudeness, just as I also can’t think for a moment Jesus is impressed with a Christian who is rude to others in His name.

Reply

Kat September 18, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Given that the Guest in question knew you’re not Christian, asking OP to join hands / participate qualifies as a micro-aggression. We live in a plural society, and it’s way past time to accept that not everyone prays just like you do. Freedom of religion means you can practice as you wish, NOT that you can force others to practice as you wish.

If it were me, if Guest says “Let’s join hands,” I’d scoot back in my chair a little and say, “Oh, go ahead.” I might even say, “Go ahead, I’ll just run to the restroom while you’re busy” and then do so.

Reply

Wilson September 18, 2017 at 7:29 pm

I am a Christian as well, and I don’t agree with the hand holding thing. It’s not Biblical, for one, so not necessary at all. I think families started it to stop fidgety children! Just break the chain – sit with your hands folded, and if your neighbours look at you expectantly, keep your hands in your lap and keep your eyes forward or down, don’t look back at them. They should respect that, and simply sit there with their vacant hand resting on the table by their plate, definitely NOT reaching across you! All that is asked of you is to be respectfully quiet for a few moments. In mixed religious company (including those who aren’t religious at all) one should say grace quietly for themselves as they see fit, and the others should just be respectful of that, allowing them a few uninterrupted moments.

Reply

doodlemor September 18, 2017 at 8:14 pm

IMO, people who do this are often very prissily sanctimonious, which as an accomplished sinner I find quite annoying. In my experience, weirdly enough, I have often found these people to be rather mistrusting of Catholicism, too.

Therefore, I think that it would be very wise of OP in the future to take control of the situation, unless she is against all prayer. She can tell them that she is leading the prayer, and then pray the incredibly beautiful Catholic grace for everyone.

The grace is “Bless us, O Lord! and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.
Amen.”

Reply

Pat September 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Short and to the point.

Reply

Ashley September 18, 2017 at 8:40 pm

I simply sit with my hands folded in my lap, and I’m sure I’m not the only one happy not to be holding hands.

Reply

Queen of the Weezils September 22, 2017 at 12:28 pm

I would do the same, and have. When the guest (not host) piped up “Would ya’ll mind if we said grace?” in a restaurant. My response would be something along the lines of “Please, go ahead. I don’t mind if you say grace” and then just waited respectfully and silently. If asked to join I would say “No, thank you. You can, though. Please, go ahead, and don’t mind me.”

Reply

Kelly Taylor September 18, 2017 at 10:56 pm

I am also in the “No, thanks!” or “I’d prefer not to” camp. Even when I was a Christian, I found public praying out loud in non-religious situations to be a problem, and, as others have mentioned, either a form of intimidation or showing off (in direct conflict to the bible’s admonition to not make a display of praying in the middle of the street). In my post-Christian life, I’ve had a few people try to be pushy, and was once even asked “Kelly, will you please say the blessing?” But my polite, simple, to-the-point “No, thank you” or “I’d prefer not to” fixes that, whether it’s the hand-holding or praying or all of the above.

Reply

Kay_L September 19, 2017 at 12:09 am

Remember the movie Bull Durham?

Nuke: Dad, they’re sending me up to the majors, I leave first thing in the morning
Nuke’s Dad: Let’s have a quick word of prayer
Annie: Oh, let’s not…

Also came to mind. My nephew married into a fairly religious family. The wedding events were peppered with very bad and awkward attempts at group hymn singing. Well, apparently in private it was just as awkward.

My sister and her husband paid for the entire thing and by the time it was nearly over, they were tired, spent, and ready to clean up and go home. At the end of the evening, the kids and their parents (my sister and her hubs, and the two religious in-laws) were at the car with them to say a private good bye before they did they did the big exit.

The religious in-laws were insisting on the six of them holding hands in a circle and saying a prayer. My sister had just about had it by then! She had also been drinking and just said, “no, no, it’s just time to say good-bye” and she then proceeded to say good bye to the happy couple and she and her husband skedaddled–they had more work to do to wrap things up!

Reply

Margo September 19, 2017 at 8:53 am

The guest asked if the others would mind if they said grace. I think ‘no thank you’ is also an appropriate response. It doesn’t stop them from saying a private prayer before eating if they want., but is clear that you don’t, as a group, wish to do so.

I think ‘it’s not for me’ coupled with ‘but go ahead for yourselves’ is also fine.

(And I think if they suggest saying grace and they then suggest that one person will lead the prayer, you’d also have been fine at that point to say “oh, it’s not my thing – I assumed you meant you would like us to wait for you and Bill to say grace before we all start eating ” – if they are ignoring the more subtle signals that you don’t wish to join in I think that you are fine to make it clearer.

Reply

Devin September 19, 2017 at 11:14 am

I think the only thing more rude than assuming your friends practice the same beliefs in the same manner as you in public (maybe you hold hands and pray around their home dinner tables, but do not do so in public), is assuming the wait staff would like to join in on your group prayer. I’ve had, on many occasions, tables request me to join them in prayer after dropping off their entrees. This practice feels extra coercive because they could take this preceived slight out on you via your tip, plus even if you’d like to join you are in the middle of work and may not have the time to spend during a prayer of unknown length. And as a server you don’t want to touch hands because you are handling multiple people’s food, and this hand hold now means you need to go practice good hand hygiene before you can do anything else. Maybe it’s the city where I waited tables, but I was only ever requested this by Christians.

Reply

Amberly September 19, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I do make a habit of praying over my meals. Typically in a mixed crowd, I bow my head briefly, close my eyes, and say a silent prayer. I usually try to do this in a lull in the conversation so other people barely even notice. I think the only time it’s rude to refuse to participate in the prayer is if it’s done disrespectfully. Once, at our house, my husband announced that he was going to say a prayer, and two relatives carried on a loud conversation throughout. There is no doubt it was intentional.

Like the OP, I would be completely grossed out by the demand to hold hands, especially if my meal included finger foods like chips & salsa. I am a total, shameless germaphobe, and my hands being clean while eating is my hill to die on. I think I would handle this with humor, or a lighthearted excuse spoken quietly to the people next to me: “I’m going to pass on the hand holding because I have the sniffles/my hands are sticky/whatever.”

Reply

Garden Gal September 19, 2017 at 4:36 pm

“During a previous conversation, I explained to them that I did appreciate the kindness they’ve shown my parents, but that I did not believe what they believe. So this expectation of joining them in the saying of grace is even more bizarre.”

I don’t think these people were being bizarre, they were being deliberately rude since they knew you didn’t share their beliefs. I’m an atheist, and in this case I would have told them, “You go ahead and pray, I’ll wait for our host to begin eating,” and put my hands in my lap.

Folks blindsiding others with trying to coerce them into a religious practice are obnoxious, and, fortunately, I’ve rarely come across them.

Reply

Queen of the Weezils September 22, 2017 at 10:22 am

I am not Christian, never have been. My beliefs have drifted over the years, starting with the agnostic way I was raised, drifting into atheism, coming back around to agnostic, flirting with deism, now landing firmly in paganism. My immediate family is agnostic, but my extended family is Christian. Many of my friends are Christian. My in-laws are *very* Christian, with my father-in-law being born again.

So there’s the background. Here’s what I do. If it is someone else’s house, they have every right to practice their faith however they like. I will be respectful by joining hands (if that is their tradition), and bowing my head. I will not, however, pray or say “amen”. They are inviting me into their home, and that is no small thing. If it is a neutral area, like a restaurant, I will quietly and respectfully wait until they have finished before starting my meal. If it is my house, however….. There will be no grace. Anyone may pay privately and quietly, but I will serve the meal out and people are free to begin.

Most Christians seem perfectly okay with this. But there are some….. My father-in-law is the worst. He’s actively tried to force us to say grace in our home, and then berated us for our beliefs if we refuse. I let my husband guide me on this, since the relationship is already difficult and I don’t want to be a wedge between them. Sometimes he relents, sometimes he doesn’t. I think it depends upon how much he’s up for that fight, because it will be a fight.

I don’t practice any ritual with guests who are not of the same faith system. It’s not my style to “force” my beliefs on anyone else, and that’s what it is. Even when someone is okay with respectfully staying silent, there’s still a tiny degree of participation just to have the ritual unfold before you. I willingly sign up for that degree of participation because I respect and like my friends and family (or at least am not willing to fight about it), but it’s still there. Think about reversing it – do you think most Christians would be okay to raising a horn to Frey? Somehow, I doubt it. I bet most would opt out and find a respectful way to stay silent, probably feeling a bit awkward as ritual unfolded. I wish they’d think of how they’d feel if asked to participate in a ritual not of their faith before trying to impose it on non-Christians. At the same time, no one should ask them to NOT perform their own rituals in accordance with their own faith. It’s a balancing act that requires respect on both sides.

Reply

Queen of the Weezils September 22, 2017 at 10:28 am

Forgot to add: I agree that the guests usurped the host’s role. It is up to the host to lead a ritual (or appoint someone to do so). That was their first rudeness. The second was to assume that everyone is completely down with the prayer and the particular method of prayer. The guest is free, of course, to bow their head and pray quietly on their own.

Reply

sunnydi84 September 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm

We are a Christian family, and we pray before eating in our own home or if just the 5 of us are out to eat at a restaurant. However, if we were guests in someone’s home or guests of someone’s at a restaurant, I would let the host/hostess take the lead on that one. We’ve instructed our kids that not everyone prays before the meal. If there is no prayer before the meal, they can just quietly say a silent prayer in their heads. God knows the intentions of the heart. I would never dream of making my host/hostess uncomfortable by asking to say a prayer! And, if I were in the situation of having a host who believed differently than me and prayed to a different god than I do, I would sit quietly, bow my head (or whatever their custom dictated) and silently pray to my God. Just my 2c.

Reply

Blake September 29, 2017 at 5:06 am

As a religious person, I’ve always been taught that praying shouldn’t call attention to the person praying. No elaborate displays of piety when out in public, and when praying in meetings, keep it simple, yet sincere.

For restaurants, one solution I’ve encountered on occasion is saying the blessing on the food before even entering the restaurant. Nice bonus is that car (parked of course) offers some privacy not available in a noisy restaurant.

Reply

Cancel reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: