Eventually everyone finds herself at a religious ceremony she doesn’t necessarily understand or agree with, and it’s important to behave like a decent human being. If you were invited to a religious event that you don’t necessarily agree with, chances are that it is a Big Fucking Deal to the person who invited you. It was such an important thing that religious boundaries are completely transcended for the day, and you have been included in what may be a big milestone in someone else’s life.
In the same vein, if you invite someone to your religious event, knowing that the person is not a practitioner of the same faith you are, you should try to be as inclusive and non-judgmental as possible. Obviously this person is so important to you that you want to include them in your big day regardless of their personal beliefs.
I do have experience in these things. I grew up Catholic, first in a Catholic-heavy area, and then in an area of the Midwest where Catholics are considered familiar sorts of pagans. Most of my family is non-practicing and I am dating someone who was raised Baptist. And in case that’s not enough, Catholics have lots of religious milestones. Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Funerals, and each one comes with a party. (Oddly, yes, even the funeral, though it’s kind of somber.) And I went to Southern Baptist Vacation Bible School as a kid, because the VBS at Holy Spirit started after public school began at the beginning of August. Suffice to say, I have been the inviter and the invitee at a good many religious events.
Therefore, I offer some helpful hints for religious events.
As the Invitee
Go with the flow. At least as much as possible. For instance, don’t talk while everyone is praying. I’m not saying you have to bow your head and close your eyes, especially since no one will notice if their heads are all bowed. Just stand there and appreciate the universe, if nothing else, or think about the person who invited you here and how much she must care about you.
Try to participate. People who just sit look sullen. Your attendance is so important to someone, that the least you can do is play an hour of Simon Says. If everyone is standing, stand up. If everyone is singing, grab a hymnal. (I cannot tell you how much fun it is to sing Christmas songs at a Baptist service. They SING ALL THE PARTS.) Just follow the leader. (Unless someone is sacrificing a young virgin or something. But in that case, why do you hang out with murderers? You should probably go call the cops.)
As the Inviter
Do not be a religion pusher. I have seen this happen. I have HAD this happen to me. Be happy that your friend/family member has come to support you on your big day, or loves you so much that she just wants to spend time with you. Appreciate that person for who she is. Do not ask if they want to join your group of cool kids or make sly comments about how they should join your church. Respect your friend’s brain and ability to make her own decisions, unless she has specifically come to you for advice.
Offer helpful hints. I invited my boyfriend to Christmas Mass two years ago. He had never been to Mass, other than once for a wedding and didn’t know that when you cross in front of the altar, you genuflect. I didn’t warn him before I dropped to one knee. Had it not been for a sweet spin move, he would have tripped over me in front of the whole congregation. In other words, WARN THE NEWBIE. Being in an unfamiliar situation is bad enough. Being in an unfamiliar situation and looking like an idiot? Awful. Just be a good friend.
And overall, just be understanding. Not everyone believes the same thing, but I think we can all agree that when you love someone, you respect that person and their beliefs no matter what, regardless of whether you share those beliefs or not. So go to your niece’s bat mitzvah, watch your friends quite literally tie the knot in a beautiful handfasting ceremony, or congratulate your cousin on finishing seminary.
And if there’s a party afterwards, count me in.