Debate on Ethics and Religion: What’s Special about a Place of Worship? Part 1
Dahyabhai is curious about the places of worship in a community. “How important is a special place of worship? Is a place of worship compulsory? What are the rules and requirements for a person to be allowed to enter a place of worship of your religion? “
We present the answers to Dahyabhai’s question in two parts. This week we have responses from non-Christian and Catholic panelists. Next week we will have three more Protestant responses.
Jewish communities believe that it is better to pray in community rather than alone. Any space can be used for community prayer. The synagogue has developed as a focal point for Jewish community life, to be a house of prayer, study and community meetings. There are no strict rules for entering such a space, although it is customary in traditional synagogues for men, including visitors, to cover their heads in spaces of worship. Other prayer garments, such as the tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin (speech bubbles), are usually reserved for Jewish men and women. Non-Jewish visitors should not wear tallit or tefillin.
Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Minister of Outreach) of the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:
Most Hindus would agree with Roman Catholics and Orthodox followers that a place of worship is more than just a building. We consider the sacred space of the temple. The different ceremonies that we perform during the dedication of a temple are numerous and last several days. This has the effect of impressing the idea that when we walk in we are in a very special place that allows us a deeper connection with the divine. At the deepest level, we believe that the cosmos is a manifestation of the divine. From this point of view, a temple is no more “sacred” than the men’s restroom in a biker bar. However, most mortals are not as spiritually equipped to sense the presence of divinity in the latter as they would in the former.
The temples are generally open every day. Ceremonies take place almost daily, but most of the time the building is open to the public for silent meditation and prayer. There is no compulsion to go to the temple. Many Hindus prefer to make their home the main place of worship. Most Hindus have a dedicated room for this. That said, many agree with the idea of balancing individual or family prayer with activities involving the larger community.
We at West Michigan Hindu Temple are happy to welcome anyone who wishes to visit. The only thing we ask is that the shoes be taken off in the hallway. Of course, the same sartorial modesty that one would exhibit in any church or synagogue is encouraged.
Reverend Colleen Squires, minister of All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, responds:
Unitarian Universalists are very flexible in terms of what defines a house of worship. There are no mandatory requirements for a space to be considered a place of worship other than it must be accessible to everyone as much as possible. We do not have any special rules or requirements for a person / visitor to enter our worship space.
Father Kevin Niehoff, OP, a Dominican priest who serves as judicial vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:
The Catholic Church defines a church as “a sacred building intended for divine worship, to which the faithful have the right of access for the exercise, in particular the public exercise, of divine worship” (Code of Canon Law of 1983, canon 1214 ). There are many references to “the church” in the New Testament. First and foremost, a church is the people of God (eg, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians) and not a building or place of worship.
No, a house of worship is not compulsory. However, having a worthy place for a community of believers to come together and pray together is not necessarily inappropriate.
Everyone is welcome in any Catholic parish. If no one is present, you are respectfully invited to walk around the church. Please avoid the altar platform, chairs on the altar platform or movements near the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Always feel free to take the time to pray and reflect in this holy place.
If people are present, follow their example and respect the faithful. At the time of Communion, please note that non-Catholics are not free to accept the Eucharist, but if you follow the crowds online for Holy Communion, you can fold your arms over your chest and receive a blessing.
This column answers questions of ethics and religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We would love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that arise during your day as well as any religious questions that you have. Tell us how you solved an ethical dilemma and see how the members of the Ethics and Religion panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].
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