"Of course, we are planning to remove the pews, and put
I HAVE heard this comment on so many occasions, and, having
experienced the benefits of pews, especially for seating large
numbers, I decided to collate my impressions.
Why do people want to change to chairs? Most often, clergy talk
of wanting flexibility for worship: in the round, south-facing,
west-facing, and so on. I have, in the past 40 years, seen perhaps
two or three situations where the "flexible" position is used. So
there is more to it.
People who have gone to a particular church their whole life,
and cannot remember not going, tend to like to keep pews - not for
comfort, but because they have become part of feeling "at home".
This is not so relevant for clergy, as they are more transient.
Part of being at home also means not worrying so much about the
heating, or even the lighting.
One element of contemporary mission has been a realisation that
newcomers to church life, or to occasional services, see quaintness
and oddities: from using a small bowl on a table instead of the
font, to sitting in church in your outdoor coat, and sitting on
benches or pews. For them, also, chairs are more ring-fenced than
pews; that is, everyone has their own defined space, such as on
aeroplanes or in the cinema, and people do not have to risk being
touched or leaned on. It is just like garden fences on even the
smallest plot - they are designed to define the space, and exclude
others. It is our culture.
So perhaps this is a good reason to change to chairs - for the
newcomers. Do remember, however, what we are in church to do. This
is not "couch-potato" time for chilling out. Worshipping God,
listening to the word, and focusing on the sacraments are not the
time for disengagement; it is time to be alert. It all very well to
accommodate something familiar - chairs - but they must also
support the activity that we are undertaking.
Often, there are no hassocks, because we no longer kneel to
pray, and, again, we are reducing our active engagement in worship,
the bodily action reflecting our attitude to God. Of course, we can
pray sitting down, sing sitting down, and listen sitting down, but
let us not reduce worship to mush. What will help all of us be
alert, focused, on "the edge of our seats" when God speaks to us?
Have this conversation when you discuss whether to have cushioned
seats; bats are not the only issue.
Do we still want to worship in the round, by moving all our
chairs, or do we want them in serried ranks, like the pews? If we
are extending our church's use to arts and performance, or even
exhibitions, when we need open space, then chairs are the obvious
choice. One or two churches have added castors to their pews, but
this will not work in all locations.
Even if you do not now use your choir stalls, and have abandoned
the high altar, leaving the chancel furniture accommodates that
visual sense of the church as it has always been: our worshipping
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