Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

A World Without Gratitude Is a Bleak Place Indeed

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attend church services nearly every Sunday at a small neighborhood church, where almost all the attendees know each other across many dimensions of life, not just religion/worship.

Because the number of seats is usually less than the number of attendees, people tend to arrive early. Before services begin, there is an active buzz of conversation, about yesterday's ballgame, politics, who is the host for tomorrow's book club meeting ...

I find this inappropriate, as if attendees at a dinner party in someone's home paid the host no attention until the meal was served. My "example" of quietly reading the day's Bible passages has had no effect.

Is mine an old fuddy-duddy attitude? If not, what might be a reasonable approach to changing things?

GENTLE READER: Different faiths -- even different worship groups within the same faith -- practice different etiquette in regard to nonreligious discussions at church, synagogue or mosque. There are, however, common threads.

Nearly all religions treat the place of worship as a holy site, literally the divine home. But services are also generally a communal activity -- joint worship is a means to cement societal bonds. So Miss Manners cannot join you in condemning ordinary sociability, which most congregations see as strengthening their community.

The comparison to a dinner party, though lighthearted, is therefore on point in many respects. While nonreligious conversation is acceptable, participants should be respectful of the host and mindful of the location. This means some topics are more acceptable than others, and jokes about the religious fervor of one's devotion to the local sports team should be off-limits.