The Welcome Wagon

The Welcome Wagon October 6, 2015

One complaint that people sometimes have trying to get started in Hinduism is not feeling welcome. Feeling ignored, in fact.

I’ve come to understand that most Hindu temples and organizations are just not at all used to people showing up who aren’t intimately familiar with what to do. 

And I’ve also found that there’s a real advantage to that. You can show up and have deep private time with God without anyone bothering you. You set the pace of your worship. 

Also if you are outgoing, friendly, and say hello then most people are very welcoming and friendly. They just often don’t quite know how to respond to you but if you make the first move you quickly find how friendly most people are.

In the west we are used to churches that have a very intense and set way of welcoming new comers. There will be a greeting table, brochures, name tags, newsletter sign ups, all sorts of things. A lot of churches you can’t walk in the door without this huge welcome and a lot of guidance. Churches also almost always have programs that tell you exactly what will happen in the service and how to follow along.

However, not all churches are welcoming. 

A couple weeks ago I went to a Catholic church service (I’ll talk more about that soon). An usher guided me in and gave me a hymnal that we didn’t really end up using at all. At the point where other people got up to take communion (non-Catholics are not allowed to take communion so I stayed sitting) the usher leaned over to whisper at me, “I didn’t see all that when you came in.” And she pointed to my chest!

It was so awkward and uncomfortable. I’m still not exactly sure what she meant. I have a very large chest but I tried to dress very modestly and I had on my nicest dress. 

I ran out of there afterwards. I wasn’t greeted, I wasn’t welcomed, I felt very unwanted! So that can happen in churches. 

We were also recently at a ISKCON gathering and I was impressed by how welcome they made us feel. They greeted and guided people effortlessly. I commented to Brad about how they had the greeting thing down as well as the UUs. He said they’ve had a lot of practice with outreach to westerners. 

Still, I’m happy to be able to slip quietly into a temple and sit in communion with God without anyone getting in the way. 

And if you want to get connected to the temple leaders and/or get a tour, it’s easy to set up an appointment through temple websites or phone numbers. You always have that option. 

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  • Amar

    for us Hindus (including you) that faith is very much personal idea, this is why we do not thumbs up or thumbs down on personal ideas.
    you know your good as much as I do, I have no reason/authority to question you?

  • J N

    some temples in bharat dont allow other religions inside,, its their principle kind, yes, lot feels offended.

    Each yuga has its own yuga purusha, means who bares burden of yuga, in krita yuga, its Padmanabhaswamy, Thiruvananthapuram, in treta yuga kanchi Varadaraja swami, kanchi. in dwapara yuga Jagannath Temple, Puri. in kali yuga venkateswara swami, tirumala tirupati. those who born in those yugas, they have to visit n have darsha n gets blessing to make human life as worthful.

  • Was she pointing to your mangalsutra ?

    • Ambaa

      I was going completely incognito! No mangala sutra and no bindi. Nothing to give me away!

  • Things have changed for me at my Temple, which is not ISKCON, but “traditional American Hindu Temple,” if you can understand that. More people are starting to know me by name and face. I know the Temple manager to some degree, and my spiritual guide is from this Temple. Several of the benefactors and grand benefactors recognize me, and some know I write independently on SD. Even the pūjāris have warmed up to me, asking me how I am doing.

    Just this past Sunday, I helped out in the kitchen and got everything ready. After prasāda, we had a Garba for kids as part of cultural events at the Temple, and while I was finding a place to sit and watch, an elderly Indian woman I know by sight (we can’t speak each other’s languages) motioned me to sit next to her, so I did and watched the Garba. It was fun to watch and see how the people interact (as I have been reading Rajivji’s books lately). The elderly woman had to get up to leave, as her younger relative was waiting for her. She smiled, gave me a hug, and put her hands to my face in endearment. The ladies got involved to form a group to show the kids how to do the Garba dance properly and were visibly looking for an equal number of ladies to do the dance. I volunteered and had a good time learning and remembering the steps. I’ve been going to this temple for a little over 4 months now. I go every single Sunday in addition to the occasional Friday or Saturday when they have a holiday going, unless I have to be out of town for some reason.

    Like you said, depending on the Temple and how connected they are outside of the non-Indian community, it could take a while for people to warm up to you. You’re going to find this anywhere. I’ve only seen one other white woman who goes there infrequently, and three other whites who have been there only once. The rest (100+) are Indians or from other countries.

    I’ve had a UU church in Victoria, TX warm up to me immediately, and one of the elders had admitted to me that I had left a big impression on the members during the time I was there (I had worked on a produce farm about 40 miles away and was staying temporarily in town, and then moved on to working in renaissance faires). This is a small church of only about 15-20 members at the most, set in a house converted to a church. It’s a very welcoming environment for anyone who is not Christian. If for some reason I ended up in Victoria again, I would definitely go back there, as there is not a mandira there, BUT I can come as I am to share my perspective as a Sanātani in the round group discussions after service.

  • Seeker

    How appropriate this topic is for me, especially today. Just yesterday, the movers dropped off my household goods to my brand new residence in another state. I just moved from the San Jose bay area. There are many Hindus there and I was embraced at my temple. The temple workers all knew me and I had several friends there. I also participated in a Shiva prayer group that met in private homes.

    Now, I have to start all over and hope for the best. I just hope I can find a friendly community like the one I left. I am now in Phoenix area and though there are several temples here I have not gotten to any. I arrived here lat Sat night, Sun was pooped and Mon movers came. So by this Sun I should be rested enough to go scouting. I prefer to worship on Mondays (Shiva worship). However have to find where and if there is one. Will keep you posted.

    Oh about Catholic churches. I have been to many. Of all the ones I attended, only two were welcoming and friendly. I got so tired of trying to find a place (church to me is also about community) that I joined a baptist church where I was very welcomed and made several friends there.

    • Ambaa

      I can’t wait to hear how you do! I think if you’ve succeeded once then you’ll be able to do it again!

    • Amar

      Bay area, come on that’s my territory.
      simply, don’t worry & be happy.

    • bpa its in tempe AZ they Do Shiva puja every Monday evening.

    • Bayern

      almost all temples do shiva abishekam on mondays.

  • Dispal

    I am a Catholic from India and we never discriminate anybody inside the church based on their religion, caste etc..All are welcome…nobody is turned away..There are many shrines and people from different religious backgrounds come and pray there..(eg. St.Mary’s Church, Bandra, Munbai, Mahim Church, Mumbai, Velankanni Church…to name a few)..So your experience in a Catholic church really surprised me…