23

On Sunday, I was walking in Zürich and came across St. Jakob Church. When I approached the door, I saw that a chorus was performing. Since there was nobody around except the people seated in the church, I hesitated to enter.

If that happened at Fraumünster or Grossmünster, probably there would be lots of tourists around and I would follow the crowd. I didn't have that chance at St. Jakob.

Maybe the same rules don't apply to all churches, but I wonder what the best practice is.

  • What did you want to do in the church? – Bergi Jun 13 '18 at 19:55
  • @Bergi After seeing the chorus, listening to them... – ahmedus Jun 13 '18 at 20:20
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    Unless it's a concert with a fee, you're usually welcome to do that. Enter quietly, sit down, enjoy. – Bergi Jun 13 '18 at 20:25
23

It can be a rehearsal, a concert, a regular religious service or even a wedding or baptism.

As @phoog mentions in his answer, if there is nobody at the door to ask your money you can enter.

When there is a service going on, it will be appreciated if you keep out of the area where the people for the service are, in a busy service please stay near the door, if it is a small group in a side chapel or near an altar, you can move around in most of the church.

In the case of a concert, you are asked to stay out of the area unless you sit down and start being one of the group.

Rehearsals are less formal, just do not mingle into the choir or go between the choir and the people which are with them (likely in the seats near.)

Look for notices, they should be obvious but can be to the side or on the other door from the one you used.
And keep your noise down, even more than you would in an empty church.

There are some differences between churches, more between denominations than between different countries. And there are also differences between city and countryside. You can expect a church in a city to be more open to tourists, in the countryside there are still churches which are open every day out of tradition.
Some denominations are more likely to have churches open than others, like Roman Catholic churches have a good tradition of being open for people to come in to pray, while most of the protestant Christian churches are only open for services and to admit tourists. But this is not a given, as each church will decide its own opening times.

19

If it's a Christian church on a Sunday, it's likely to be a service. Interrupting those, at least as a sightseer rather than a member of the congregation, is likely to be unwelcome. If it's not a Sunday, it may well be a rehearsal for a concert.

As a semi-professional musician, I do concerts like this most weekends, many of them in churches. I personally like it very much when visitors come in during rehearsals. Religious buildings get an extra dimension when they are filled with liturgical music, and the more people that can enjoy it, the better. I can't remember when I last did a rehearsal in a church without a few sightseers.

If you do decide to go in, it is more important than anything else to be quiet. Make sure your phone is set to silent, and don't answer it if it rings. Don't talk to the people you're with in anything above a whisper. For my money, you don't have to sit there; walking around is fine, but not if your footsteps are audible. The orchestra and choir may well have met that day for the first time, and they will have only a couple of hours to put the programme together. The conductor will be trying to get his or her requirements across to about two hundred musicians in a resonant acoustic, and anything that makes that harder is unwelcome.

  • 2
    I would add to your answer that services happen on religious holidays too. And sometimes there are weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. But you'll be able to notice those. – Belle-Sophie Jun 13 '18 at 9:21
  • If it is a Christian church, ... "Church" implies "Christian" by definition; other religions use other names for their places of worship. – David Richerby Jun 13 '18 at 22:05
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    I used to travel a lot with my Catholic girlfriend and more than once we'd arrive late to a church service and never felt unwelcome to enter, often times there was an usher or other congregant at the door who welcomed us in. Sometimes after the service we'd hang around a bit and the priest would welcome us personally and when the conversation got around to my being agnostic, without exception I was welcomed to the church and asked to continue attending. As long as you're respectful, I can't imagine a mainstream church making you feel unwelcome, even if joining mid-way through the service. – Johnny Jun 14 '18 at 5:44
  • @Johnny I have edited my answer in the light of your point, which I think that I accept. – MadHatter supports Monica Jun 14 '18 at 11:38
  • @DavidRicherby wikipedia disagrees: "The term in its architectural sense is most often used by Christians to refer to their religious buildings, but it is sometimes used (by analogy) to refer to buildings of other religions". So thank you, but for the avoidance of doubt I'm going to stick with my usage. – MadHatter supports Monica Jun 14 '18 at 12:35
6

If there's nobody at the door regulating entrance to the church, then you can assume that the performance is either a concert with no admission fee or a religious service. In either case it would generally be acceptable for you to enter the church.

  • 1
    It could also be a rehearsal, in which case it is still acceptable to enter. – DJClayworth Jun 12 '18 at 19:08
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    @DJClayworth I had assumed that that was not the case since there were "people seated in the church." But it's true, it could be a rehearsal. Normally if the rehearsal is to be closed to the public, either the doors would be locked or there would be signs to indicate that fact. With open doors and no signs, it's still usually okay to enter. – phoog Jun 12 '18 at 19:11
3

You tagged "switzerland" but did not mention the denomination of the church.

If it is a Christian church, it should be free to enter. Historically their doors were always open, but in the late 20th century theft became rife, and churches began to lock their doors.

Apart from that, anybody should be able to enter any Christian church, no matter what their own religion, or none, provided they are respectful.

There are tourists who go around blindly, photographing everything but seeing and understanding nothing. I hope your way is more sympathetic and experiential.

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    If it is a Christian church, ... "Church" implies "Christian" by definition; other religions use other names for their places of worship. – David Richerby Jun 13 '18 at 13:36
  • @DavidRicherby to be fair, please post that comment other answers too. One answer starts "If it's a Christian church..." – Weather Vane Jun 13 '18 at 21:55
  • I'd not noticed the other one. Done, now. – David Richerby Jun 13 '18 at 22:05
  • @DavidRicherby please see Buddhist Churches of America. A church is a place of worship, or perhaps in this case, devotion, and there are different names for these places the world over. – Weather Vane Jun 13 '18 at 22:07
  • OK. "Church" almost always implies "Christian". There are very few non-Christian denominations that call their places of worship "churches". Indeed, the Wikipedia page you link says that BCA started using the term "church" to seem more mainstream in a predominantly Christian country. The fact that justification is presented for a non-Christian religion using the term emphasises the Christian implications of the word. – David Richerby Jun 13 '18 at 22:36

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