Over 2 million people call Tarrant County home. Along with their places of residence, the county also houses several Buddhist and Hindu temples, mosques, synagogues and churches of Catholic and Protestant faiths. 

Religious experts and community leaders spoke with the Fort Worth Report about how to attend a faith space other than your own or visit one for the first time. 

Jan Quesada is a senior instructor in Texas Christian University’s religion department who has a focus on interfaith studies. For those interested in visiting a religious service of another faith, the experience can bring a new perspective on the beliefs of others, Quesada said. 

“I always tell my students, you don’t have to believe what other people believe. You don’t have to accept it as true. You should, however, seek to cultivate an appreciation of understanding and appreciation of knowledge,” Quesada said.

Make a plan

For security reasons, places of worship may not be open all the time or to the general public, Quesada said. She suggests starting at its website to learn more about the hours of operation and when prayers or religious services are held. 

“You might want to call and make an appointment or ask what would be a good day to visit if you want to observe worship or if you’d rather just get a tour,” Quesada said.

Weekly holy days vary among religions. For Catholics, the Sabbath is on Sunday. In Judaism, the Shabbat occurs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Muslims gather at the mosque on Fridays for prayer. 

“Usually, the Friday prayer is a good day to come in if you want to see a busy day for the mosque,” said Yaman Subei, former co-chair of the city of Arlington’s Muslim Advisory Council. 

Chien Le, is the secretary for Chùa Hương Đạo Temple in Fort Worth. He said visitors can come to observe the temple’s services on Fridays at 7 p.m. or Sundays at 3 p.m. 

“Our temple is open for anyone who would like to come learn about Buddhism and observe services,” Le said. “There will be an English translator in the main hall.” 

Edward Smith, chief of staff of St. Patrick Cathedral, said that the cathedral will receive a lot of visitors because of its location in downtown Fort Worth. He encouraged visitors to come and observe service with their friends and family. 

“Nobody cares if you know everything by heart or anything like that. Just come on in, have a seat and just pay attention. That’s all the secrets,” Smith said.

Know before you go 

The types of religions are vast, and so is the denominational spectrum. Christianity stretches from Catholicism to Protestant faiths such as Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian. Judaism can be Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist or Conservative. 

Buddhism and Hinduism also have several branches of faith with their own subdivisions. 

Before visiting any place of worship you may need to do some homework on the religion and the space, Quesada said. She suggests websites may offer some guidance on things to be aware of in advance, including proper dress. 

“You would just need to go in with a sense of deep humility and respect. You shouldn’t enter a place of worship, whatever the tradition, without being in very modest dress,” Quesada said.

Some examples of this would be to wear clothes that cover most of the body by wearing shirts with high necklines and sleeves and pants without rips or holes in them. Covering tattoos is also preferred in mosque spaces, Subei said.

“If they have tattoos around their body, along their arms and their legs … it would be more respectful if they had those covered because tattoos in Islam are forbidden,” Subei said. 

Visitors should be prepared to add or remove articles of clothing when walking into a religious space, including taking shoes off before walking into a temple or wearing a head covering in a mosque.

“If you know that a community wants women to have their heads covered — and even men to have their heads covered — you should be prepared for that,” Quesada said. “You should accept the hospitality of the community if they are showing how to arrange your headscarf or how to arrange the things that you need to be covered with as you go in.”

When you’re there 

When visiting a religious site, Quesada suggests not taking pictures or videos of people worshiping without permission. It’s also important to be mindful of sacred statues or items within the space. 

“A lot of Buddhist temples will have statues. So, you wouldn’t want to go up and touch the statue,” said Mark Dennis, a Buddhism and Asian religions professor at TCU.

While at a worship service, Quesada said visitors should never simulate worship that is not a part of their faith practice. 

“If someone (in) the congregation or the community is doing something that is part of their worship, and you are not part of that community, you should just probably stay seated,” Quesada said.

This same suggestion might apply if you are visiting a religious space of the same religion but within a different location or denomination. The St. Patrick Cathedral is the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and is located in the downtown area of the city. 

Pews are filled with regular parishioners, guests visiting from another parish and non-Catholics, Smith said. 

One of the biggest things to understand about visiting the cathedral, or any Catholic church, is that it has a closed Communion, Smith said, which is “restricted to the baptized members belonging to the same denomination or same church.”

“Everybody is welcome to come into the church,” Smith said. “If you want to participate in the Communion, you’ll see people have their hands crossed on their shoulders and from there they won’t receive Communion, but they’ll receive a blessing.” 

When visiting a religious space other than your own or for the first time, you don’t have to give up or diminish what your tradition is, Quesada said, but it can help you learn other’s traditions and values. 

“If you’re going to be there, you should be at least open to finding things that are meaningful and things that you could honor and respect within that tradition.” 

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter @marissaygreene

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Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report. Greene got her start in journalism at Austin Community College, where she spearheaded the...