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How do I deal with a co-worker's constant "witnessing"? I work closely with an evangelical Christian who knows I do not share her beliefs. She keeps quoting the Bible to me and making comments like, "I got a great discount on my new kitchen tile. The Lord always takes care of his own!" Once, we were discussing how to approach a new project when she paused, said, "Oh, thank you, Lord!" in a very excited voice, then turned to me and said "Why don't we use the Lord's idea!" (It was actually a very prosaic, uninspired suggestion.)

What does etiquette require of me in these situations? I am tired of politely repeating, "Debbie, you know I don't share your beliefs." Once she even said, "I don't care. I'm going to tell you anyway!" Also, if I have lunch with her, do I have to wait till she's finished saying grace before I can start eating? (She closes her eyes, bows her head and prays silently for several minutes before announcing "Amen!")

She is very nice and I don't want to hurt her feelings, but she seems to think that she can convert me by relentlessly demonstrating that she believes.

Laura Sheahen responds: Honestly, why don't you accept the Lord's kitchen tile suggestions? Why do you refuse to let the Spirit's project management wisdom into your heart?

But seriously. It sounds like you've done everything you can to be polite and forebearing. Perhaps it's time to be...not so polite. You could sit down with Debbie and explain to her that while you understand her commitment to Christianity, her words and actions often make you uncomfortable. You could ask that as a sign of respect to you, she refrain from in-your-face witnessing clearly aimed at persuading you to convert. Since Debbie's made it clear that she puts her call to evangelize above interpersonal considerations, your request may fall on deaf ears, but it's worth a try. If her insistent witnessing continues, you could plan to spend less time with her socially--though interacting with her on work projects may be, ahem, your cross to bear. In Debbie's defense, many evangelicals feel God's presence strongly in their lives and want to proclaim that. To some, it's as natural to say "the Lord took care of me" as it would be for others to say "I lucked out." So don't assume that every reference Debbie makes to the Lord is a covert attempt to proselytize. You have several options at lunch. You could, of course, just throw Emily Post out the window and dig in. On the politer end of the spectrum, it might be easiest to wait out the grace, as you've been doing. A solution inspired by the decorous ladies of the South might be to excuse yourself to wash your hands or "get another napkin" while Debbie prays. And if that little devil on your shoulder gets the best of you, you could implement a 60-second rule whereby you sneak a few fries once her praying has lasted more than a minute.
The father of a Jewish friend of mine is being buried today. This evening several of us are going to his home for a supportive visit. What is appropriate to bring as a gift/food item? They are Reform Jews. --David Alice Chasan responds: It is always appropriate to bring non-perishable, well-packaged foods, such as dried fruit and nuts, candies, and cookies or crackers. Traditionally, people bring or send gift baskets, which are often prepared by local food shops for such occasions. They can be kept on hand, sealed, until the grieving family is ready to use or serve them. If you are able to speak to someone who is helping the family during the bereavement period, you can also get more specific information about foods that might be needed by the family for more immediate use--for example, a cake from a bakery, breads, bagels, or fresh fruit. But too much perishable food just winds up being thrown away, so consult with friends and family if you can. My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. He was brought up Catholic, and I was brought up Presbyterian. We'd like to have a Presbyterian minister officiate at the wedding, but in a Catholic church. Is this possible, or will we just offend everyone involved by asking? Our families are totally okay with it -- I'm just wondering about the church and minister. We know the minister personally -- but we do not have a connection to the Catholic church we had in mind. Any advice about how to approach this delicately would be greatly appreciated! --Ms. WH

Laura Sheahen responds: You won't necessarily offend anyone by asking, but your request almost certainly won't work out. The Catholic Church requires that couples marrying "in the Church"--meaning not a physical building, but within the guidelines set by the Church--complete a marriage preparation course and fulfill other requirements for the sacrament. If the Catholic spouse is marrying a non-Catholic, there may be even more hurdles. Specific requirements vary by Catholic diocese. But since you and your fiancé aren't planning to marry "in the Church," you also probably won't be allowed to marry in an actual Catholic church building. "It's like saying, 'Can I come to your house and throw a dinner party? ...But we're not going to abide by your house rules,'" says the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine. So it would make the most sense to marry in a Protestant church with your Presbyterian minister officiating. However, there are ways to show you value the faith of your fiancé's family. According to the Rev. Kenneth York of the Diocese of Belleville, a Protestant marriage can be recognized by the Catholic Church if you talk to your local Catholic parish priest and request a "dispensation from canonical form" from your bishop. If you're not up for the paperwork and other tasks that would involve, you might consider asking a Catholic priest to be present at your Protestant ceremony and give a blessing. We are attending a Jewish naming ceremony this weekend. We gave a gift at the child's birth, which we know has been opened. We are unsure of the etiquette for attending a naming ceremony, and whether we are expected to either bring or not bring a gift, or if it is perhaps optional. I am the baby's uncle. --Chris Alice Chasan responds: If you gave the new parents a gift on the occasion of the child's birth, it is not necessary to give another gift at the naming ceremony. However, since you are a close relative, and this is presumably a religious ceremony, you might choose to give a second gift, especially one with Jewish significance, such as a mezuzah or a kiddush cup. This would become part of your new niece or nephew's Jewish legacy as she/he grows up. I, a Christian, attended a funeral for a Hindu woman last week. I would like to find out the meaning of all the items that the Hindu priest used during the service. I can remember a coconut, flowers (yellow and white), rice and I am not sure what else there was on the table. Can you offer any help for me to learn about the items used for Hindu funerals?-- Pat

Laura Sheahen responds: Different Hindu sects use different items, but most Hindu death rituals share common practices. Only light-colored flowers are used in the rites, usually as an offering to the deity (such as Shiva) most meaningful to the family. The rice and coconut are also offered during worship. When placed in the mouth of the deceased prior to cremation, the rice symbolizes nourishment for the departed soul. The rites are complex and can last for many days, with commemorations at fixed intervals during the weeks and months following the death. For detailed information on Hindu death rituals and the meaning of objects used in ceremonies, see these articles:

  • Hindu Rites for Death and Grief
  • A Day-by-Day Guide to Hindu Death Rituals
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