Keeping worshipers "in their place"
When I’m not working with a church on a weekend or leading worship, I visit a wide variety of churches. Recently, I worshiped in a large, traditional mainline church. As Rita and I walked into the beautiful, gothic-style sanctuary, we searched for a seat that would put us in the heart of the nave. We found one at the front of the middle section of pews. Just as worship began, a woman moved into the pew from the side with a “searching” look on her face. In fact, during the fist hymn she kept glancing past us to the space between Rita and another worshiper. Following the opening hymn, while we offered the peace to those around us, a man joined the woman next to us, and both of them wedged themselves between us and the aisle. As we all sat down, Rita grabbed her purse which was about to be crushed by the man who was now sitting down in Rita’s seat and we quickly moved to the far end of the pew to get out of the way. Clearly, we had placed ourselves in “their seats.” We were visitors. No hello. No acknowledgement of our presence. Only the clear message, “you’re in our pew.”
Pews….they’ve helped defined generations of church-goers. They empower us to stake a claim in the sanctuary and tempt us to become spectators rather than participants in the act of worship.
One of the most amazing examples of “the pew” is to be found in the
Northeast corner of Yorkshire in
St Mary's church sits up on a cliff top above the English sea-side
British historian Simon Jenkins calls the interior of St. Mary’s
church “the ecclesiastical equivalent of the center court at
As you can see in the above photo, these box pews, built in the 1600’s, were "reserved" for their wealthy occupants. From their “bleachers” those with money could look down on the lower classes seated below.
The especially poor sat in pews at the back of the church, out of view from those in the balcony. Their pews were marked, “free.”
Visitors were given clearly marked pews that said, “for strangers only,” designating their place in worship.
St. Mary's may seem a relic of the past, an interesting museum of attitudes long gone.
Sadly, while we moderns may not affirm such blatant designations or seating patterns, pews keep worshipers "fixed" in place, facing forward, watching the presenters up front do the work of worship.
Interested in reading more about pews? Click here:
For More Information Contact Brad Berglund
8273 E. Davies Avenue • Centennial, Colorado 80112
Toll free: 877.489.8500 • Phone: 720.489.8073
and Author Brad Berglund Taizé
Taizé-style worship in the Denver area