Well, I’m upset, and there’s nothing to do about it. My church is getting rid of the old, worn-out pews and replacing them with chairs. I realize pews are hard and nothing more than glamorized picnic benches, and that chairs are easy to move and will have some padding, but nevertheless, the decision leaves me a bit heartbroken. Apparently, pews are too expensive and “old-world” style. Chairs can be stacked and arranged in fancy ways depending upon the size of the crowd. When my despair didn’t lift with that rationality, someone said, “We can fit more people in with chairs.”
“Nonsense!” I said. There is always room for one more person on a pew. It’s simply a matter of everyone scooching down and making room, which is something we seem to be doing less and less today. In a society where we are giving each other more space, it feels as though that space is creating more than physical distance between us. There’s something to be said about having to be squished together. How often or in what other situations can you say that you sit next to someone so closely? Family or not, we are losing touch with each other. In a world where there is such a loss of connection, less familiarity, and fewer occasions to really be with friends and family, we are more in need of pews than ever.
When I sit down in a pew, it feels intimate. I feel as though the wood is imbued with all the people that have sat upon it with their heavy burdens, joyous hearts, and reverent spirits. The next generations will not have memories of being pressed between the strength and protectiveness of their parents and falling asleep during the sermon against one of their shoulders. The feeling of sitting next to someone as a stranger but by the end of the service sensing a kinship. That will be lost.
You may think I’m being dramatic, but I believe I’ve got a valid point. There is something special and unspoken about what happens when you see a person who needs a seat, and you instinctively move down and make room. It’s not only courteous but it makes a broader and bolder statement about belonging. Without a word, you are telling the person, “There’s room for you.” And we need that. We need that in our church family, and then to branch out into our community and workplace, and then the world beyond.
Squishing together to add one more person is important. Making an effort, comfortable or not, to make sure there is a seat for everyone, then settling in whether it’s cramped or not to where you meld together is a unique experience that shouldn’t go away.
In your shifting, scooting, and scrunching, you are saying, “We’ll make room because what we experience in this church, in these pews, is sacred and needs to be shared.” You can’t do that with chairs. What are you supposed to say to someone needing a spot? “Hop on my lap?”
From the old cathedrals I visit to the small country churches, the first thing I do is go over and touch a pew that countless of hands have grasped. And then I take a seat and imagine the music, prayers, and people that fill it on Sunday. Before all the pews are gone, I encourage you to do the same. But don’t sit at the end; go to the middle of the pew so that a person passing knows there’s room for one more.