Have a question about another faith's religious ceremonies--or your own? E-mail columnists@staff.beliefnet.com with "Etiquette" in the subject line.

What do the new letters behind dates mean? I was reading an article and it stated the year as 125 C.E., what happened to 125 A.D. and B.C.? --Nancy P.

In our multifaith age, publications often use "C.E." for Common Era and "B.C.E." for "before the common era." They use these instead of B.C. for "before Christ" and A.D. for "anno domini," which means "year of the Lord" in Latin. There's no difference between 2004 C.E. and 2004 A.D. Read more about it here. Some Christians may chafe at the change, saying that it's too PC, and that it's no big deal to go on using abbreviations that have been around for centuries. But let's not forget that there are Jewish, Islamic, Chinese, and other calendars all available for the picking (for example, the year 2004 is 5764 on the Jewish calendar). So the fact that most of the globe uses a calendar pegged to the presumed year of Jesus' birth can be looked at as a concession to Christianity. What is the proper way to approach prayer in a large public event such as banquets etc. where several religions may be involved? Do you start with "Our Father" and how do you end? --Sharon D. The writers' rule of thumb is important here: Know your audience. If a prayer shuts someone out, it's not really true to its essence. So try to figure out which people will be at the event and what kind of prayer would draw them together. The Lord's Prayer is a Christian prayer, though like much of Christianity, it has its roots in Jewish thought. In an interfaith gathering, you might want to focus on prayers that reference simply "God" rather than Jesus, Allah, Krishna, etc. Here's a sample drawn from a handy website that lists opening and closing prayers:
Blessed are you, God of all creation,
Whose goodness fills our hearts with joy.
Blessed are you,
Who have brought us together this day
To work in harmony and peace.
Strengthen us with your grace and wisdom,
For you are God for ever and ever.
You'll probably want to tailor the prayers for the occasion (for example, expressing gratitude for the meal if the prayer begins a banquet). The opening prayer might reference the different groups in attendance, or your hopes for the event ("Bless the families who have gathered here to celebrate the end of the school year"). The closing prayer might ask for God's blessing on what was accomplished or discussed at the event ("May our work today lead to better homes for our community's poor").

Be sure to check out Beliefnet's multifaith prayers for specific needs.

Could you please tell me what a customary gift is for a Bat Mitzvah? It is for my boss' daughter. Is it appropriate to give a gift certificate to his daughter's favorite clothing store? I believe that most gifts have Jewish meaning, but since I am not Jewish, I would like to know an appropriate alternative. Also, what is customary as far as the dollar amount that is spent on the gift? --Tracy A gift certificate to a clothing store is perfectly fine, especially if you're worried about what to give. The amount depends completely on what you can afford and what you feel comfortable with. That said, anything from $25-$75 is not uncommon. If you feel bold and want to buy a specifically Jewish gift, you could give a mezuzah (a small scroll case containing a Bible verse), Kiddush cup (a wine cup for the Sabbath), or a book about Judaism. Here at Beliefnet, we're fond of our columnist Joseph Telushkin's "Jewish Literacy" or "Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living."
A close friend has asked my husband to be the godfather of their newborn son. I remember hearing once that it is customary for the godfather to tip (for lack of a better word) the priest who performs the ceremony. Is this the case? If so, should it be cash in an envelope, should he include a short note thanking the priest? --Jill Neither the baby's parents nor the godparents are under any obligation to "tip" a Catholic priest officiating at a baptism. However, many families do give the church a monetary gift in gratitude for the priest's services, and to cover the cost of such ceremonies (keeping the church lit and air-conditioned, for example). Some parishes formally request a donation when preparing parents for the baptism (see, for example, this church's letter to parents). According to Father James Martin of America Magazine, a donation from $25 to $100 would be appropriate, depending on the family's circumstances. Typically, this gift would be provided by the baby's parents and would be given to the priest or to the parish office. Religious-order priests (such as Franciscans) are required to turn in to their superiors any honorariums they receive, however small; diocesan priests are not, but would ordinarily turn in to their parish any amount larger than a token sum. It's unlikely that the parents would ask the godfather to spearhead the transaction. However, if asked, your husband's best bet is to talk to someone who works at the church to see what's customary in the parish.

And to answer your final question: Thank-you notes are never amiss, but ordinarily should come from the parents.

Members Helping Members

As part of Beliefnet's "Religion Etiquette Q&A" column, we occasionally include useful posts by our members. On the message boards, member BlueLotusPetal asked how to behave when meeting Buddhist clergy:

I am going to be introduced to a local Lama at his home in an informal setting. How should I address him? Do I shake hands? Bow? Should I bring a gift? If so, what? What else do I need to know as far as behavior, addressing him, etc.
Member sanath answers: The etiquette will depend on the tradition of the temple. Basically in all the traditions it is courtesy to put your palms together in gassho. Member hol1 answers: Dress casually, bring a small gift (how about a small basket of assorted teas) if you want, and just say "Hello, Tashi Deleg...." Follow the others' lead and by all means say "Thank you" after the class. Speaking of a more formal setting, member little-tara says:

"My Lama, who is an American woman, has not placed a great deal of expectations on how we dress when we are with her, but when we went to a teaching by Terton Namkha Drimed she suggested we dress as if we were going to meet the Buddha. And as women it is culturally appropriate to be cover from the neck to the elbow on top and then pants or a long skirt/dress."

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