Friday, February 21, 2014

Shoe Removal in Christian Churches

Russian Orthodox Church in Phuket, Thailand

For the most part, Christian churches do not practice removing shoes in places of worship as they do in Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. In the west, it is not the custom for Christians to remove their shoes in churches (though Roman Catholics go barefoot at some shrines and have historically gone barefoot as a penance). Some of the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches, the Ethiopians and Copts remove shoes in their churches.

As Christianity has spread to Asia, many churches founded in Asian countries have followed the local custom of removing shoes, whether out of habit, reverance or simple practicality. This crosses denominational lines; when I went to Japan, I visited a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, a mainstream Protestant church and several Evangelical Protestant churches. Removing shoes was required in all of them.

I was recently reading about Eastern Orthodox missions in Asia. It seems that Russian and Greek Orthodox churches in Asia tend to adopt removing shoes in those countries. I suppose that rather fits with the strong sense of reverence in Eastern Orthodox worship.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Current British Norm

Now this is entirely based on my own experiences, informed also by what I have read online. Other people living in the UK may see things differently. I have lived in several different parts of the UK, but I haven't lived everywhere.

The UK is not like Sweden, where everybody removes their shoes in homes. However, it is also not like Spain, where removing shoes in homes is seen as unusual.

I would say that the majority of people in the UK do not wear shoes in their own homes 90% of the time. They may not have a rule, they may sometimes keep their shoes on, but most of the time they take their shoes off in their own homes. They also generally require their children and friends of their children to remove their shoes. This may not be enforced strictly, but this is still an expectation.

Most households will not ask visitors to remove their shoes. However, more often than not, visitors will remove their shoes or at least offer to remove their shoes. This often leads to absurd conversations like this:

Guest: Shall I take my shoes off?

Host: You really don't have to.

(Guest notices shoes by the door)

Guest: I probably ought to.

Host: No, you can keep them on. It's really not a problem.

Guest: I'll take them off anyway.

Host: Thanks, that's nice of you. (It's what she wanted anyway)

Guests are less likely to remove their shoes at parties when they are dressed up, but they might still offer. They are also a little more likely to remove their shoes in winter, though shoe removal in summer is still common.

I would argue on this basis that it is perfectly fine to insist on shoes off as a rule. If you ask your guests to remove your shoes, you are simply asking them to do what most people do most of the time anyway.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Group Conformity

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a newly formed mid-week Bible study group. I had visited the home of the leaders many times. They don't have a shoes-off rule, but most people visiting them tend to take their shoes off.

The first week we met as a group, everybody took their shoes off except one lady who kept her boots on. The next week everybody removed their shoes except her. However, half-way through the meeting she decided to take her shoes off and put them by the door. Although the hosts said it was unnecessary, she must have felt an overwhelming psychological pressure to conform to what everybody else was doing.