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Ethics and Religion Talk: What Should Religious Practice Look Like at Home?

What does your religion say about practicing at home on days not spent in a congregation? Are there solid guidelines, or do families just decide for themselves what works?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

The question presumes the practice of faith in the family. The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the first to teach their children about religious practice and are also the first to evangelize their children (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 319, 536-539). Daily exercises of faith in the family complement worship in a congregation. The spiritual disciplines practiced in the home will vary from family to family. There are many ways to deepen one’s faith through spiritual disciplines and numerous prayers. Therefore, what is important is developing a pattern to practice one’s faith at home. 

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

Before anything else, it’s important to note that Hinduism does not have an official Sabbath as Christians and Jews would define it. Temples are usually open all week, with ceremonies happening daily. Devotees can attend when they feel so inspired. 

But the question is still quite valid. While the religion does offer a great deal of leeway in terms of how it is practiced, our scriptures and teachers encourage some form of daily devotion. How this is expressed is left up to individuals and families. Some may simply commit to reading sacred texts or other books related to theology, philosophy and practice. Others may wish to conduct their own pujas (ceremonies) at the home altar. Pious Hindus are encouraged to keep one room in the house dedicated to spiritual activity. There is where one might find such an altar. 

For others, the practice of Hatha Yoga and meditation are part of daily discipline. But at least as important than all of these, having the constant remembrance of the Divine at the forefront of one’s mind, along with expressing that as compassion, noninjury and generosity, is held as an ideal.

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

We certainly encourage congregants to attend our Sunday services but that is not a requirement. Sunday service is our largest gathering each week and helps to build a vital community. We also recognize the many ways people can participate in our faith community outside of Sunday morning. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that wants our members to decide for themselves what works best for them and what is meaningful for their life. We realize attending church on Sunday may be more desirable at certain times across the lifespan. 

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

In my opinion, the issue should not be so much about what the expectations or guidelines from a specific religion are, the issue should be about what fosters our spiritual well-being and nurtures our relationship with God. Therefore, in the same way that we must nurture our bodies to be able to function, we must nurture our spirit in order to navigate the challenges life brings our way successfully. In Hebrews 10:25, the Bible tells us not to neglect spiritual gatherings--especially as the End of times approaches. We are also told that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, God dwells in their midst ( Matthew 18:20). Then, in Matthew 18:19 we also read that if two or three of God's people agree on anything and ask for it, it shall be given to them. Yet, in John 15:7 we are given the caveat to all this: "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for anything and it shall be given to you." So, clearly, we are called not only to abide in God, but also to allow His Word to abide in us. As  you can see, this is not about rituals; it's about relationship. It's about cultivating a true and authentic relationship with the God of Heaven and Earth who wants to be known!      

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

Presbyterianism has long enjoined members of our churches to engage in personal or private worship, and in family or household worship on every day of the week. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland provided a “Directory for Family Worship” as early as 1647, discussing the theology and practice of worship in the home by individuals and households. Family worship consisted of the singing of Psalms, prayer, Bible reading, and instruction from the church’s catechisms, as well as “conference” or discussion of appropriate topics. Beyond these daily exercises, it was also advised that families observe days of fasting and prayer (“humiliation”). and days of thanksgiving, as their circumstances warranted. 

The practice of family worship was maintained in this way for many generations. In more recent times, it has taken a simpler form, with brief devotions before or after mealtimes in the home. Sadly the hyper activism of the modern lifestyle has eroded even these simple practices. Family members are often elsewhere than at home for meals, or else eating in haste before heading out the door again. The neglect of family worship doubtless has much to do with the decline of knowledge and commitment to our faith among today’s Presbyterians. Like charity, religion should begin at home! 


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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