Did community leave with the pews?

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I can just imagine what they looked like brand new. The deep brown wood shiny under the lights. The curved arms on each side smooth and supple. The faint vertical grain stretching feet after feet, interrupted only by the mini shelves built to hold a slim Bible. Even when they weren’t brand new, they were beautiful.

My earliest memories of Big Church were anchored by the pews in our stone church. The rows created by their solid forms were familiar. For the first half hour of the early service, I got to be nestled next to my mom and brother on top of that worn blue padding. I got to squeeze past my Grampy, who always occupied the aisle end of our pew, when the children were sent off to Sunday school after worship.

I spent lots of time in those pews. I sang the words printed on the bulletin insert gustily with the rest of the congregation on Sunday mornings. I wore my AWANA vest proudly on Wednesday nights with the rest of my Sparky comrades. I stole frequent glances at my jr. high crush and wrote notes back and forth with my best friend at youth group. I helped my wedding coordinator mom attach tulle and flowers to each Many ages and stages of life made their temporary home on those pews – listening, talking, ignoring, learning, wondering, and waiting.

I can’t remember when our church made the transition, when we bought poofy, interlocking chairs to replace the pews. But one week, they were gone. Our family took one of the pews home and with some reconstructive surgery, it became a seating option in our living room. I wonder now if the familiar blue color of our chairs was chosen to pay homage to our seating forefathers.

Even though my young bum appreciated the plush seat and padded back of those new chairs, I missed the pews. They were a novelty, yes, with a pocket in each back conveniently shaped for a pen and giving envelope, but they seemed so sterile, so individual. There wasn’t a sense of being hemmed in on either side by those sturdy wooden arms. I missed the closeness of too many people smooshed together in one row.


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My eyes rested on the floral fabric lining the back of the pew in front of me. So old-fashioned, I thought. But before my internal lament against patterned fabric and out-of-date seating got too out of hand, I was remembering those wooden pews in that stone church on the corner.

In a culture that clings to individualism, I want pews not chairs.

I want to welcome people into my row and not worry about how many people (or how much baggage) they have with them. I want to smoosh and make room for others. I want to feel the heat of others as they wrestle with the things they hear, see, and feel. I want to reach past my chair’s limits and get messy.

In a culture that clings to individualism, I want community.

photo credit: DaveLawler via photopin cc

8 thoughts on “Did community leave with the pews?

  1. This is beautiful, Emily. I’ve never before considered the community fostered by pews instead of chairs, but I see it, and that’s what I want, too.

    1. Thanks Annie! I’m not against chairs in church, I’m just realizing more and more how much culture, even Christian culture, communicates individualism when Jesus was about community!

  2. Love this! It is so true. Our church is 50 years old and has old pews and bright red carpet, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future–and I love it. Because we want to use whatever money we would spend on a new carpet or pews in the community, and because of the community inside the building that they create.

  3. “I want to welcome people into my row and not worry about how many people (or how much baggage) they have with them.” <– I love this.

    And those Awana vests! How have they not changed them to something…different? :p

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