It is a common fact that more people used to go to church than they do now – in the West at least – and it is another well-known fact that it tends to be the older people who go to church, perhaps because they would like to hedge their bets before it gets a little late. Well, now the Baby Boomers are getting old, so does that mean that the Western religions will see a revitalization?
It is also the case that people have got used to travelling away from their town of birth to find work, which has been made easier by a better infrastructure, better public transport and cheaper cars, so many people might find themselves in an region, where they have lived for years, but where they do not know traditional institutions like the churches.
So what should someone do if they want to (re)kindle their religious practice at church in a town where they do not know anything of the churches, their histories or their clergy?
Well, the first and most self-evident question to answer is: which denomination do you believe in the most? Let’s suppose you answer ‘Catholic’; if there is no Catholic Church in the region, would you be happy to go to a Protestant Church – a Baptist or a Methodist Church? The same is true of other religions, but I cannot state names with the same amount of assurance as when talking about Christianity.
If you are uncertain, you are in a better position than lots of people, because you can go on a fact-finding tour without any bias. So, if you do not know which church or even which religion you favour, go to a different one every week.
Sunday is not always the best day to visit a Christian church because it is the most crowded day of the week, but you will see on the notice board outside or in the foyer which other days the church holds services on.
If you are a white ‘Christian’ type, do not feel that you cannot go into churches of denominations from all over the world, but take a little time to do some research first so that you do not flagrantly upset any traditions or taboos.
For example, lots of religions forbid the wearing of shoes in church and some require that the head is covered. Ask a friend to go with you if you are uncertain. People of all religions are happy to take visitors who are sincere in their quest for enlightenment. Language may be your biggest stumbling block with religions established abroad.
If going into a church of an unfamiliar religion is too much, you could look on Google for on line forums that deal with the religion that you are interested in. That way, you are more likely to find knowledge in your own language too. There are many English-language forums on Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and more.
If you do walk into an unknown church alone, sit towards the back but try not to sit yards and yards from the nearest person or you will feel isolated. It is best to sit towards the back though because then you are not intruding and you can leave if you are not comfortable.
After the service is finished, do not be in a rush to leave. Just sit there quietly, reading through the hymn book.
Give it ten minutes or so. By then, someone ought to have noticed that they have a stranger in their congregation and someone ought to have come over to see how you are.
Some churches will even offer you tea or coffee, biscuits and a chat. This is your chance to see how friendly the parishioners are. If no-one comes over to introduce themselves, I personally would never go back there.
If no-one comes over, say hello to the person who gave the service on the way out, but try to be one of the last out so that they have the time to talk to you if they want to. Again, if they just shake your hand, mutter something like ‘nice to see you again’ and move on to the next one, so would I – I would move onto the next church.