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Church Pews a Historical Perspective

Aug 12, 2008
Picture this scenario. It is about 8:00 am on a Sunday morning and you have stumbled out of bed knowing that it is your responsibility to wake up your other family members, feed them breakfast, and get them dressed in their "Sunday best." Even though you are tired an might just like to pull the covers over your head, you live up to your family's expectations and prepare them and yourself for the Sunday services at your local church.

You cook bacon and eggs, find some stockings that don't have a run, get out your pumps and flowered dress, and the do all those same things for your daughter. You find your son's tie that he can't find for himself, and tie your husband's tie straight because he can't do that either.

You are not even out the door yet, and already you are tired and your feet hurt. You pile everyone into the car and are careful to bring Cheerios for your toddler to snack on and a coloring book for the older kids so they won't misbehave during the sermon. You can't wait to get in there and slide into your favorite pew.

What would happen if you got there only to discover that your church was no longer having the congregation members sit? You discover to your shock that the church chairs and pews have been removed and you are expected to stand for the entire service. Chances are, you would be distraught, and thankfully that is not likely to happen.

Anyone who has ever walked into a modern church knows that there are either going to be church chairs or church pews to sit on. Not having any kind of seating would be unheard of in our society today. Several centuries ago, however, most churchgoers were expected to stand rather than sit, so churches did not have pews.

Most churches were built around a dome or central area where priests or preachers would preach, while the congregation stood around. It worked well for standing parishioners, but around the seventeenth century, the congregation began to be expected to participate more, and the need for seating increased. Still, however, there was not much seating, and the pews or church chairs that did exist were typically reserved for the wealthier people who could afford to pay the church rent money to hold their pew open for them until they arrived.

In the 1700s it was common for pews to have a family's name on them and everyone knew that those pews were reserved for that family. Even if a family did not arrive for worship, the pew was still theirs and remained empty while others stood.

Then, around the mid-1800s, church seating began to evolve further. It became uncommon to pay for a reserved spot on a church pew, and church pews were filled much as they are today, on a first-come/first-serve basis. Still, though, it was uncommon to find adequate pew space in churches.

As pews began to become more mainstream, there were different areas of pews for different people. Generally, the more affluent people sat closer to the altar or pulpit, while the poorer people sat farther away. There would also be special seating for black people, children, and sometimes widows. They may or may not have been labeled with the proper designation, such as Negro Pews or Widow Pews.

When slavery was still the custom in the United States, slave owners could pay for pew space in order to have their servants close to them to tend to their needs, or sometimes there would be a separate galley for slaves.

Most pew reform in the United States began around the 1930s. Black people and white people, at least in the northern states, sat next to each other if they so desired. There was no special seating for widows or other special groups of people. Children began to sit with their families, for the most part. Also, pulpits changed during this time. Pulpits began to be more important, and pews were arranged so that everyone could see the preacher behind the pulpit and the altar.

Over the course of time, some churches have come up with various ways of setting up the pews or church chairs. At one time, it was even common for members of the church to face each other. In the Catholic tradition, before the Vatican II Council changed many elements of the Catholic Mass, the priest did not face the parishioners and had their church chairs facing the same direction as the parishioner's pews faced-most likely toward the altar and/or crucifix.

Today, the world is different and all cultures and colors, both the sexes, the young and old alike, and the wealthy and less affluent are seen as equals in most churches, and the seating arrangements have accommodated that belief. Anyone can sit anywhere they want, and only on the most crowded of days will there not be enough pew space to give everyone a place to sit.
About the Author
Seomul Evans is a seo copywriter for a leading Church Chairs manufacturer specializing in affordable Church Chairs.
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