Pastor’s Thoughts: October 2019
Historically, church buildings didn’t always have pews or chairs. According to doctoral research from John Charles Bennett at the University of Birmingham, Anglo-Saxon churches typically had just a few three-legged stools for the use of elderly or infirm attendees who could not stand for the length of the service. Later, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, benches and stalls became more common. These were usually privately constructed by church members who wanted to insure themselves a seat in church without having to bring stools or mats from home. If a medieval Christian referred to “my pew,” she probably meant it literally.
In the following centuries, American and British churches installed seating throughout the building. These church-owned pews or benches were then rented (or “let”) to individuals and families. This became the primary means of funding the church’s operating costs. As historian Charles D. Cashdollar notes, prices for particular seats were determined by the perceived desirability of their location—with front and aisle seats fetching the highest amounts—though nearly all churches also had less expensive and free seats available for those who could not pay.
Pew rental continued to be widespread well into the 1800s. During this time, more than half of the seats in all English and Welsh churches and chapels were allocated to particular families and individuals. But, eventually, diminishing revenues coupled with concerns about class discrimination caused the rental system to be replaced by the “free-will” offering most of us are familiar with today. From an Article written by Megan Hill, author of Praying Together
While we may laugh at the idea of renting a pew, (BTW did you catch that the most expensive were upfront?) space is important to all of us – even in church. We become attached to our spot, our pew, our service – even dare I say our Pastor (be honest – we all have a favorite).
While it may be true that we have sat in the same spot since our Mom first brought us to church as a baby we have to accept the fact that if we want to be a welcoming church than we can’t be attached to our pew or our spot.
It is anything but welcoming when we say to a newcomer, “Get up and move you’re in my spot!” Can you imagine Jesus saying to anyone “Hey move over, I want to sit there?” “I was here before you, I’ll be here after you, that’s my seat.”
As followers of Jesus, we would do well to match his practice of love and acceptance of anyone who wishes to come and be a part of the faith community. So, the next time you see someone in “your seat” – just say “Welcome! It’s good to have you here!”