Church Etiquette


Inside the church in Amalfi.
Inside the church in Amalfi.

1 Sam 16:7: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him . For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’”

That Bible maxim was not the theme of Sunday’s Mass, but it could well have been. And by the time I exited the holy edifice 90 minutes after I had entered, I was tormented with the fear that in today’s secular perspective many Christians, young and old, had lost their sense of church etiquette.

In our materialistic world the church is perhaps one of the last social institutions where protocol, respect and reverence are supposed to be maintained. But sadly, times have changed rapidly and chunk by chunk the high esteem we held for that body throughout our lives is steadfastly being demolished.

In my day (a long time ago) it was your grandmother who was in charge of church-going activities. Sunday school – that educational institution within the church catering to children and other young people – was a must.
Dress was institutional. Neatly-pressed long-sleeved white shirts and black (or blue) short pants; colorful knee-high socks and shiny patent leather shoes. For the girls, it was a simple hat, over-the-knee dress and ankle-covered socks. Vaseline, universally loved by granny, was the staple jelly for your hair and also all over your body, even your face. Whether it worked or not it was used to heal dry skin, help protect minor cuts, scrapes and burns.

Silence in church was paramount.
Silence prior to the service in meditation.
Silence after the service in reflection.
Genuflection : the lowering of one’s body briefly by bending one knee to the ground as a sign of respect. It was old school. But those shows of deference had solemn meaning. However, one of my politically astute friends recently pointed out that in our today’s egalitarian society kneeling takes on a rather invidious and servile meaning. I’ve taken note.

Some churches frown on female members wearing slacks, make-up or jewelry. That’s their modesty policy. Some follow 1 Timothy 2:9. –“ I also want women to dress modestly with decency and propriety not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”

Some Pentecostal Church has serious guidelines:
• No slacks because they immodestly reveal the feminine contours of upper leg, thigh and hip.
• No make-up.
• No jewelry except wedding ring and wrist watch.
• No low necklines.
• No sleeveless dresses and shirts.
• No very tight or very thin clothes.
• No dress hemlines at or above the knees.
• No sleeves above the elbow.
• No uncut hair
• No hair covering the top of a man’s ears.
• No hair touching a man’s collar.

For many men going to church is unmanly…definitely not in conformity with stereotypical masculine traits. Being with the boys, drinking bottle after bottle of beer, pushing aside domestic responsibilities, etc. The list is long, but the “lady has to understand.”

On Saturday night, after I had finished my last beer I said aloud, “See you guys, I have to go to church tomorrow.”

The silence was deafening. Then the patrons burst into raucous laughter, alerting everyone around of my perceived indiscretion of going to church. Whether it was derision or opprobrium, this Anglican does not want to know.

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