Isn’t it funny the things we wake up thinking about! As I awoke this morning, rather earlier than I expected thanks to my cat jumping on me (this has nothing to do with today’s blog actually) I was thinking about My seat in church. I could even picture it. So I started a mental mind-map and listened to what I might hear. I am sure that my lovely counselling friends could give me a more accurate and detailed explanation of this ‘problem’, but this is my offering of church and our seats.
So, to start with, for all of you out there that know exactly what I mean, and you have your preferred spot then perhaps this lighthearted view will resonate with you. For those that do not ‘get it’ then be thankful you are either in total denial or blessed not to have this issue! It might, for the ones of you that often feel your need to enlighten your vicar, might start off with something like this
I should like to bring to your attention the fact that, having been a parishioner and stalwart member of this congregation for many years that I arrived at church this morning for the Morning Service, only to find that someone was sitting in MY seat!…. and I should like to know what you propose to do about this matter… because, YOU are the Vicar, YOU are!!
Miss Mona Lott.*
*Any person who feels I have used their name, this is entirely coincidental.
Now you have to feel terribly sorry for the poor Vicar, who is at once, alerted to the incoming flack of a ‘Parishioners Complaint Series 101 to the Vicar, Re: MY seat syndrome.’ And there he, or she, sits pondering the pastoral possibilities of how to tackle this particular parishioner upset.
A Very Short Ecclesial History of Pews
Traditionally, and I quote, ”Until the early/mid twentieth century, it was common practice in Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches to rent pews in churches to families or individuals as a principal means of raising income. This was especially common in the United States where churches lacked government support through mandatory tithing. This, by nature, enforced a sort of social status in church seating within a parish.” And that it would seem is just a part of the problem for the vicar to understand for, I have a sneaky suspicion of this being a much deeper behavioural issue.
A Dysfunctional Childhood?
I can distinctly recall my eldest child, gleefully racing to the chair as a game to exclaim to me,
“I sit here!”
What have I taught her!! We played this game relentlessly for a while in her tender impressional years of a 2-year-old.Then there is from childhood, right from the start this dysfunctional possessive trait bought on in my own experience by Winne Ther Pooh, yes I am sad to say that Christopher Robin influenced me at a vulnerable time in my developmental infancy.And that song (for we all know, that anything learnt in song sticks to a child’s head like glue) went like this,
“Halfway up the stairs is the stair where I sit…”
This persistent nursery reinforcement continues unabated with bedtime stories of, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” It would seem that this traditional solid staple of childhood nighttime routine has forever influenced the problem; as generation after generation hear those immortal spoken words of,
“Someone’s sitting in MY chair!”
And to cap it all, this goes unchecked by parents every car trip, as sibling rivalry bursts upon the scene with the front seat being the prize and many a younger sibling being literally squeezed out and relegated to the rear seat with yells of
“It’s My turn to sit there!”
This does not go down well with the loser, as this is where the dog has to sit too. The big hairy mutt of a dog who drools and pants and wriggles and tries to stand upon you for a better view, especially if you have opened the window for some fresh air from that doggy breath!
But I digress, back to the church and the seating conundrum. As you may now realize there arises a dormant problem just waiting to spring to life that is so ingrained into the psyche. Now, you may think that this is just a childish view and adults do not really act like this. I beg to differ. I feel this infectious trait every time I walk into the church Sanctuary. My internal dialogue goes, “Where shall I sit (as I have arrived very early and the whole place is empty save one or two people, and that is another subject best not to get into right now), and I nearly, 99.9%, choose to sit in the same place week after week.
Many of us laugh at the antics of Sheldon Cooper, in the TV sitcom ‘Big Bang Theory’ with His over the top reactions of the sofa seat, as he declares,
“That’s MY spot.”
As he stares at the poor person who might dare try to sit on it. Can you see what I mean? Then there is,
The Art of Saving Seats
Delegated to the one who arrives early (oh me again) there are a variety of objects useful for hogging a whole row of seats. Most likely to be found on an empty seat, items vary from coats and scarfs, and umbrellas (obviously wintertime items) to the use of Bibles and handbags. Not perhaps the best use of your Bible, but at least you remembered it. Then, if you are in the know, you can use those wonderful RESERVED labels, especially useful for conferences or those church seasons when ‘other’ people join you, such as Easter or Christmas; more on this before I finish.
I wonder if this seating obsession extends to other areas, both in church and out of it. For example, with the church car parking place; the favourite seat post-service in the coffee area for that all important fellowshipping that evangelicals love to engage in. Or in any place we regularly claim and sit, the office; the bus; the train.
The Specialist Seat Saver
Finally, I come to the last but serious (seriously I say with a wink) part of all the many ways church seating is seized upon, and that is the dear saint (that’d be me again ,but I know I am not alone in this) who has ‘end-of-pew-row-itis’. This problem is easy to spot, but very difficult to cure. This blocks the pew-row causing many a shuffle to find a seat only free right in the middle of a pew row, and the sheep that has blocked the row to have their toes stood upon if they happen to be worshipping (eyes shut of course). This ‘end-of-row-itis’ seems to be rooted in a certain personality type, namely ‘The Introvert Worshipper’. This is part of an introverts key plan A (and their only plan actually) to have a quick escape… just in case. In time, they may learn the ‘side-step’ out of the pew aisle to allow another access.
Why we get hung up on this is quite enlightening ( and entertaining), for many a week in church, the front row or even two, are completely vacant, with only the poor Vicar sitting there. So, how is this to be solved? What came to my mind was (rather all this being very tongue-in-cheek) might be for
- An altar call; just as everyone has settled into their seats to distract the flock from reinforcing this entire subject.
- An invitation to have prayer ministry; for this is not the free abundant life we all talk of, and to ask the Lord to intervene and heal those said ones afflicted by the curse of ‘MY seat’ syndrome.
3. And if all else fails one might consider removing or rearranging the seating plan so that no one has the chance to get too settled each week.
This certainly is a way to mobilize your church, but I guess care must be taken not to scatter the flock in a mad version of musical chairs during the worship session!
There is a seriousness (this time I mean it) to this long-standing behavioural issue in churches and, of what all this looks like to say a visitor, or what welcome a new believer has or seeker sees going on. How can they feel welcome, if we cling to our seat (literally) and refuse to move (Physically) or do not include them in our congregational services of worship? Do they really have to navigate our unwritten, unspoken selfish protocol to fit in? Can we blame them if they copy our behaviour thinking this is normal?
Surely, the ‘I’ in this is, of where ‘I’ sit, only reflects the ‘I’ found in sin. So let’s try our best and be all inclusive, and give the poor Vicar a break for once, instead of running to him with our petty little moans of, “Someone’s sitting in MY seat.” Let us make room; you never know you might be entertaining an angel! Hebrews 13:2. Amen.