Making arrangements

  • In your first effort to contact the house of worship, speak to the contact person directly – face-to-face, if at all possible. E-mail or over-the-phone conversations are risky unless you know personally the individual whom you are contacting. Person-to-person encounters are vital in building interfaith relationships. Once a relationship has been established over a period of time, phone/e-mail arrangements may be more reliable.
  • Give a clear explanation to your host regarding your expectations. For example, during the visit, what would you, as the organizer, like to have happen and what would you like the host to do? Generally, I find the following four components helpful for a one-hour tour:
  • A brief introduction to the faith tradition.
  • A tour of the facility with an explanation of what the visitors are viewing (altars, images, objects, etc.) and what roles such altars/images/objects play in the worship setting.
  • A personal statement/explanation of how being a member of the host tradition shapes one’s worldview. In other words, what does it mean to be Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc. and how does this particular faith orientation affect the way one lives one’s life?
  • A period for questions from the audience.
Baha’i House of Worship – New Delhi, India credit: Baha’i World Center

Baha’i House of Worship – New Delhi, India
credit: Baha’i World Center

  • Clarify for the host the age/gender/grade/knowledge level of the visitors so the presentation can be tailored to the group’s needs.
  • Confirm that the facilities are able to accommodate the size of your group and can meet the requirements of any special needs guests.
  • If time is an issue, be clear on time requirements when booking the visit. As a general rule, approximately one hour is a comfortable length of time for a site visit.
  • Clarify the length of the visit again when confirming the booking and again upon arrival at the site. Accordingly, the speaker will be clear on the length of her or his talk and thus allow time for a tour of the building and a question period.
  • Ask about etiquette. For example, is a head covering required? If so, what is appropriate? Are head coverings provided in sufficient numbers or should guests bring their own? Should shoes be removed? If so, at what point in the building? Don’t be shy to ask about these and other etiquette issues.
  • Ask if there are specific areas where the guests should sit or if men and women should sit in different areas. This consideration may or may not be an issue with a simple visit, but may be more important if the visit includes a ritual.
  • Clarify as to what fees are expected, if any. Some facilities have a set fee. Others have no set fee. And still others are not allowed to accept money. Inquire about how the fee may be paid (e.g. If by cheque, payable to whom? Should fees be given to someone or placed in a donation box?)
  • Confirm the visit two or three days before the date, reviewing schedule and expectations with your host.
  • Acquire the name of the person to whom you spoke in making the arrangements as well as the name of the person who will meet you as host on the day of the visit.
  • Etiquette and expectations vary from site to site. To avoid an uncomfortable situation, ask rather than assume.


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