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.