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On Praying in Public

In the Orlando temple, at least in the late 90’s, there was a professional sign hanging in the cafeteria. Loudly it pronounced:

The Food Has Already Been Blessed

Every time I saw it, I imagined all the cafeteria workers, at the crack of dawn, circling the industrial-sized stew pot, hand in hand, blessing the chicken a la king to nourish and strengthen our bodies and do us the good that we need. But I assumed it was to prevent the problems that occur when one group in a crowded cafeteria launches into a sacred moment.

Last month, I attended the temple with three other women from the area I’m moving to. We met, first, for lunch in the Timpanogos Temple cafeteria. As we sat down to eat, I could tell that one was waiting for us all to be seated for the blessing. I squirmed. And then our little table of four was seated, we had a blessing on the food.

When I was a kid, my mom used to ask us each to silently say a blessing when we were at a restaurant. I’ve gone a step further and simply forgo the prayer altogether whenever we are in public. Personally, I think it makes others uncomfortable (should they all stop talking in order to show respect?) and it makes something of a spectacle. We always say blessings at home and with other groups of members, but I assume that in public, God knows our hearts.

What do you think? Does your family pray in public?

{ 24 comments… add one }

  • kilpatrickclan August 20, 2009, 7:42 pm

    I am with you. My family was more like you and we didn’t pray in restaurants. My husband’s family was a little different and prayed in restaurants. He doesn’t push it when we are out. If people come to our home, we pray. If we are with a large group of LDS people, we pray. But, if we are in another person’s home, we go with the flow….especially a non-member who might pray differently. We recently had some of my husband’s students from his summer class come to our home for a BBQ. My daughter asked later that night why we didn’t pray. I told her that all the students were not LDS and it might be strange to them, especially when it is their professor who would be praying. She got it.

  • ldsmusicwriter August 20, 2009, 11:03 pm

    That’s interesting, kilpatrickclan. I thought we were supposed to pray when people not of our faith were in our homes, to try to convert them or show them what life is like as a Mormon. :)

    If we can remember, we sometimes pray in the car before we get out to go into the restaurant. I used to think maybe if we were “more righteous” we WOULD pray in restaurants. But then I heard a general authority say that we don’t pray in places where it would be a public spectacle, and he specifically mentioned restaurants. Of course I can’t find the talk–isn’t that always how it goes? But anyway, that sort of settled it in my mind.

  • ksjarvis August 21, 2009, 6:29 am

    We kind of do a combination of things. If it is just me, my husband, and the kids, when we are in public places we do usually bow our heads and say a short silent prayer to ourselves. But if anyone else is with us, we just skip it so as not to make things awkward. We always say it in our home, whether we have non-member friends over or not. We have generally found that people are very respectful of that practice.

  • agardner August 21, 2009, 7:22 am

    We don’t pray in restaurants. Very similar to kilpatrickclan, actually. We pray in our home whether there are non-LDS people here or not, but in public not unless it’s a church function usually.

  • Ray August 21, 2009, 11:17 pm

    I bow my head slightly and say a quick prayer if I am alone at a table. There’s no spectacle in that, and I’m not doing it “to be seen of men”.

    When the entire family is out, we don’t, and I don’t when I’m at a table with a group – but I certainly don’t think there is ANY problem doing so quietly and unobtrusively no matter the circumstances.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 22, 2009, 5:17 pm

    To me “unobtrusively” is the key, and I really don’t know how you can do that in any group of more than two. When I’m alone, I actually do much of what you do, Ray. In fact, I pray in public all the time, but it probably just looks like I’m thinking or that I have a headache.:smile: And when we’re hosting something at our house, we always pray, too.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 25, 2009, 12:05 am

    OK, so we had my dad’s big 80th birthday shindig at a restaurant a few hours ago. And when everyone arrived, my sister announced that we were going to have a prayer and my brother gave it, in his booming voice. No, we weren’t in a private room, just in at a huge, long table they had set up for us.

    He gave a lovely prayer, as usual, but the whole thing weirded me out with all the other people in the place. So my family is now officially the cause of obtrusive public prayer.

  • mormonmom August 25, 2009, 6:05 am

    Posted By: Alison Moore SmithSo my family is now officially the cause of obtrusive public prayer.

    haha…Ok, sorry…I had to laugh…I could just picture that scene as I read it. Poor Alison…

    We don’t pray in public when we go out as a family or a couple. I usually think of it and wish we would have done it before we left the house, but by then it is too late. I need to think of that more often. We do pray in our home at every meal, no matter who or how many there are here.

    Sometimes my presidency meets for lunch to have a presidency meeting and the president always asks someone to pray. We get lots of looks and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe I should suggest we meet outside first. OR, perhaps I should just get over it. :wink:

  • jennycherie August 25, 2009, 7:18 am

    Posted By: mormonmomOR, perhaps I should just get over it.:wink:

    not necessarily – I think this is one of those things where we sometimes perceive that we are more righteous if we pray, but that is not necessarily the case. Praying before we eat is an act of gratitude, but it is not an ordinance or a requirement. Our food won’t turn poisonous if we forget to bless it. :wink: I feel like this is one of those “traditions” that can be good to follow, but is not necessary and so we should not beat ourselves (or anyone else) up for not doing so. We also should not assume that those who do pray vocally and publicly are doing so because they are more righteous. They could be doing it for many reasons. :wink:

  • afiremarshall September 25, 2009, 11:34 am

    I grew up in the South where people pray ALL the time…everywhere…about everything! I find it is more or less comfortable to pray in public depending on where you are. Growing up, I can’t remember ever praying in a restaurant. My husband insists on it because he wants to teach the kids 2 things: consistency in keeping the commandments and not being afraid to show what you believe.

    I found some of the comments kind of funny, like you are in high school and afraid for what people will think of you. I also think you greatly underestimate the reactions of others. I have a friend whose husband is from the former USSR. When they went to visit his family they actually laughed at this sweet, young couple, and taunted them while they were praying. I doubt that would happen in the US. Think of it this way, if you see a family praying quietly over their meal, how do YOU react?

  • Alison Moore Smith September 25, 2009, 2:02 pm

    Welcome to the forum, afiremarshall. It’s interesting to hear a different cultural viewpoint.

    Posted By: afiremarshallI found some of the comments kind of funny, like you are in high school and afraid for what people will think of you.

    You know, that’s probably not the best introduction I’ve ever seen. :confused:

    Posted By: afiremarshallThink of it this way, if you see a family praying quietly over their meal, how do YOU react?

    Like I said, “I think it makes others uncomfortable (should they all stop talking in order to show respect?) and it makes something of a spectacle.”

    If I see someone else praying over a meal I feel the exact same way I feel ANYTIME I witness a prayer. I feel like I should shush my kids and alert everyone at my table that we need to stop eating and talking and wait until the prayer is over.

    The problem with the type of prayer we’re talking about isn’t that it’s DONE in public, it’s that it’s a prayer done in public that isn’t intended FOR the public. It’s a prayer for a few select individuals, but done in a public setting.

    For example, if I was in a park and my kids were yelling and throwing frisbees, I’d be fine with it. But if I noticed that someone was in the middle of a wedding ceremony right by us, I wouldn’t feel free to continue the rowdy behavior that typically would be normal in a park.

  • Ray September 26, 2009, 11:21 pm

    But if I noticed that someone was in the middle of a wedding ceremony right by us, I wouldn’t feel free to continue the rowdy behavior that typically would be normal in a park.

    Fwiw, the rowdy behavior wouldn’t bother me at all. After all, the couple would be choosing the park – a public place – for their wedding. So, let them deal with the consequences of that choice. Same with prayer in public. If I choose to do it, I can’t expect others to suddenly act like it’s a private place. It’s not, so I’m not going to alter my public actions if someone else is praying and pretend I’m in a private place.

    In situations like that, I just don’t care enough about what others think of me to change my appropriate behavior. If they get their undies in a bunch over it, that’s their choice.

  • jennycherie September 27, 2009, 8:38 am

    Precious young people, make every decision you contemplate pass this test: What does it do to me? What does it do for me? And let your code of conduct emphasize not ?What will others think? ? but rather ?What will I think of myself? ? Be influenced by that still, small voice. Remember that one with authority placed his hands on your head at the time of your confirmation and said, ?Receive the Holy Ghost. ? Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice that testifies of truth. ?

    Thomas S. Monson

    It’s interesting to read this discussion of whether or not concern for what others think or feel is akin to being in high school. This quote from Thomas S. Monson applies. . . that being said, I do not think that being AWARE of how others respond when we do something is juvenile, it’s practical and kind.

    Posted By: RayFwiw, the rowdy behavior wouldn’t bother me at all. After all, the couple would be choosing the park – a public place – for their wedding. So, let them deal with the consequences of that choice. Same with prayer in public. If I choose to do it, I can’t expect others to suddenly act like it’s a private place.

    I agree, Ray, but I do think that I don’t want to knowingly make people squirm or give them reason to be wary of me by doing something that is unnecessary and, to me anyway, a little weird. I would not ever criticize someone for praying in public BUT it does make me uncomfortable so I avoid it for that reason. Praying in public, to me, is uncomfortable. I want my prayers to be in private. And it’s not because I still think I’m a teenager, but because if I were praying in public, being already very uncomfortable with the idea, then my prayer WOULD be more about being seen than about communicating with God and expressing gratitude.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 27, 2009, 3:02 pm

    Posted By: RayIn situations like that, I just don’t care enough about what others think of me to change my appropriate behavior. If they get their undies in a bunch over it, that’s their choice.

    To me it is simply about appropriate, polite, civil behavior. How that segued in to some massive concern for what others think of me is a path I can’t follow. I was taught to be reverent during prayers and other sacred occasions, to stand when the flag passes by and when the national anthem is played. To me, such courtesies are important and contribute to society.

    That’s an interesting Monson quote, but I think it has everything to do with NOT bowing to peer pressure and nothing to do with ignoring those around you. I can’t imagine any of us would characterize Monson as someone who ignores etiquette, custom, and propriety under the guise of “What does it do for me?” or who defines tradition and thoughtfulness as peer pressure.

  • Ray September 27, 2009, 4:39 pm

    Allison, I never said it was a “massive concern over what others think of me”. Those are your words, not mine. All I said is that I don’t care enough about what someone else thinks of me to alter appropriate things I am doing. Maybe I should have bolded “appropriate” – but I used that word. So, to you it’s about acting appropriately, while to me it’s about acting appropriately.

    I have to ask this very directly, since I don’t want to jump to conclusions:

    Are you saying you see a quiet and short head bow to pray that does not attract attention to one’s self as not acting appropriately, politely or civilly ? Are you saying that continuing to play in a public park if a couple decides to get married in that park is not appropriate, polite or civil?

    I’m trying to understand how the excerpt you quoted from my comment led to your comment – since we both agree that it’s about acting appropriately, politely and civilly. I view a wedding in a public place as an attempt to draw attention to one’s self – and expecting everyone else to curtail their appropriate activity for that venue in order to honor that narcissism as inappropriate, impolite and uncivil.

    If I glared at those around me in a restaurant or in any other way demanded that they change their appropriate behavior for me, that would be inappropriate, impolite and uncivil. Quietly and unobtrusively praying? I just don’t see that as bad in any way. (Oh, and “we” don’t pray as a family when we eat out, since there is no way to do so unobtrusively. We also didn’t hold our wedding reception in a public park.)

  • Alison Moore Smith September 27, 2009, 7:11 pm

    Posted By: RayAllison, I never said it was a “massive concern over what others think of me”. Those are your words, not mine.

    I was referring to both your comment about caring what others thought AND to afiremarshall’s note about high school kids caring what their friends thought. To me it’s not about what people think of ME at all, it’s just about being polite.

    So, to you it’s about acting appropriately, while to me it’s about acting appropriately.

    Yes, and in my world being noisy while people are praying isn’t appropriate. And neither is throwing a frisbee into the wedding party. I understand that you would not be compelled to modify your behavior for others. I would. And because I know other people who would, I don’t want to impose that on people in those places.

    Are you saying you see a quiet and short head bow to pray that does not attract attention to one’s self as not acting appropriately, politely or civilly ?

    First, I think a vocal prayer–like the one referred to–DOES generally attract attention. And, the polite, civil behavior I was discussing was of those AROUND the person praying, not the prayer giver. Whether of not it’s appropriate to say a prayer in circumstances that will make many people uncomfortable–due in part to the fact that they feel propriety requires them to stop their usual activities in order to follow a cultural norm–is the question being asked.

    Personally, I think a private SILENT prayer by a single person is no more likely to cause problems to others than someone closing their eyes to rest them or putting their head down to look in their purse. And PERSONALLY, I don’t give private prayers vocally in public for the reasons I’ve said.

    OTOH, I pray in public all the time, but I doubt anyone knows. The closest I’ve gotten to being “caught” is when I’m in my car and/or jogging and someone drives by. In those cases I’m usually talking out loud and they can see my mouth moving. But these days if I put my hand strategically to my ear at the right moment, they think I’ve just got a blue tooth instead of wondering what psychosis-inducing drugs I’m on. :smile:

  • jennycherie September 27, 2009, 10:02 pm

    Posted By: Alison Moore SmithThat’s an interesting Monson quote, but I think it has everything to do with NOT bowing to peer pressure and nothing to do with ignoring those around you.

    I completely agree – I may not have made that clear but I think you are absolutely right.

  • partone September 29, 0000, 11:54 am

    Ray i can always tell what you do by what you defend. heh heh Mabye just have a discussion sometimes with different views or something.

  • Alison Moore Smith October 4, 2009, 8:56 pm

    Now that the board is fixed, I’m just bumping the threads that were active when we went down.

  • facethemusic October 6, 2009, 6:18 pm

    I don’t have a problem with people praying in public (restaurants, ball games, etc)– I actually think it’s a wonderful thing and think it’s a shame that so many feel like they can’t/shouldn’t, etc.. A family bowing their hands and saying a quiet prayer (even if the person praying is saying it loud enough to be heard at nearby tables, only because they were trying to say it loud enough for their family to hear) is perfectly appropriate in my eyes. So what if other people can hear? You overhear them talking about school, work and relationships too, right? I also don’t think people nearby should feel OBLIGATED to hush their tones momentarily, but it certainly would be a gracious thing to do.
    Every now and then there are incidents where it’s CLEARLY meant to be seen and heard by those nearby, and that’s the only time I find it annoying and/or inappropriate. I was at a McDonald’s with my kids a couple years ago and a small group was gathered around a couple tables and were talking rather loudly about their specific religious beliefs (we have a rather large and frankly, kind of scary cultish group that has chosen our part of town as their headquarters and the area has nearly been taken over by them). It was clear that they were proselyting to a particular gentlemen with the group. They were speaking in rather loud voices and being very demonstrative in their actions. My kids were getting pretty uncomfortable (the conversation was very strange and kind of eerie) and I was close to talking with an employee to see if they might step in and quelch the display. But we were so near to be finished that I let it go. Then, just as we were packing up to leave, they stood up, raised their hands in the air and started praying very loudly, one at time, each adding onto what the previous person said, then they started babbling (their version of “speaking in tongues”), all while a couple girls were singing in the background. NO KIDDING! And this was all smack in the middle of a McDonalds. We just kept walking out the door, and I DID see that an employee was walking towards them with a rather irritated look on his face. It was pretty clear that he was going over there to ask them to stop, but we didn’t stick around to watch it unfold. We were all pretty wierded out.
    There’s a big difference between THAT, and a person or group of people TRYING to be discreet about it, while still doing what they feel is important to do in expressing gratitude and asking for blessings on their food .

  • facethemusic October 7, 2009, 9:14 am

    As a side note– I lived most of my life in different parts of the south, and seeing people/families pray at restaurants and such was a common thing. And I guess that would be more expected in the so-called “Bible-belt” areas of the country, whereas it would probably be a rarity in a downtown Philedelphia or New York City cafe.

    It’s acutally kind of sad, if you think about it, that in an area highly populated by LDS like the Provo/Orem area, where the mass majority of people are LDS, that praying in public would be so rare or considered taboo.

  • Alison Moore Smith October 8, 2009, 9:26 am

    Thanks for your viewpoint.

    FWIW, I wasn’t making a statement about Utah or how Utahns feel at all. I was simply comparing the Orlando temple rule to what happened here and my PERSONAL feeling about it. I have no idea how any other Utahns feel about it. I’ve never asked. And, apparently the ones I attended the temple with thought it was completely fine.

  • Heather March 15, 2011, 2:25 pm

    I just wanted to share my experience. I have only been active in the church for about 2 and a half years, a member for 6 years. My husband and I pray when we go out to eat at restaurant. We are in the midwest. I have never seen anyone look uncomfortble with it. I have actually tried to look very carefully before raising my head to see if anyone was looking and I have never seen anyone looking at us. For us, it is a need to remain consistent. Neither of us grew up satin prayers and if we skip that one time, it sometimes derails our efforts to stay consistent. If we are with others that are not of our faith and not praying, I usually say a silent pray(without bowing my head).
    Also, i have seen a few others pray in restaurants and was never bothered by it or felt the need to stop anything I was doing to accomodate them.
    I think would really like to know that name of the talk mentioned in previous comments if anyone knows it.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 15, 2011, 2:38 pm

    Heather, thanks for your thoughtful input on the subject! If you’re referring to the Monson quote, I just looked it up on LDS.org. Here’s the link:

    Standards of Strength

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