Except for the times that I have visited another church I have not sat on a church pew in years. And it's not that I have anything against church pews (well they are rather confining), but our church uses chairs. Nice padded chairs. Green chairs, but comfortable, just the same. And it's not that I have anything against green, (well it is a rather over-used, rather institutional, rather non-stimulating color). But the color green, for me, goes beyond the notion that it is not distracting, it is neutral and soothing and all that. Stare at a light green wall long enough and . . . Sorry, I forgot that I was talking about seating arrangements, not dull green paint.
So, anyway, we sit in chairs. Now, chairs in church are not so different from pews. It is where you sit. And you sit there every Sunday. In the same place. And that place, pew or chair, is YOUR seat! I don't have a problem with this. (except for the "THIS IS MY SEAT!!!" thing.) I, myself, sit in the same place every Sunday morning. It makes it easier for Sharon to find me if she is in the choir, or if she is doing the hospitality thing in the lobby , which means she comes into the service late. (It can be embarrassing to have to walk all over the sanctuary in an effort to find your spouse.) And when the girls are here, and they come in late, which often happens, they know where to find us, as well. This system works well for all families in a church.
We have a different area that we sit in on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. We're pretty flexible here. Either end of the row, within ten rows or so works fine for us at these meetings. It's just that we are all the way across to the other side of the building. Go figure! And, oddly enough, it is the same with most people in our church. A few though, keep their same Sunday morning seats.
For some reason, though, I've not been able to "hold" a place for very long. My seating history over the past several years is as follows: I started out sitting a few rows from the back behind "the youth". I enjoyed watching them worship. As they grew in numbers, and some grew to be more interested in talking and playing around than in listening to anything being said in the pulpit, the surge toward the rear of the church pushed me back and back and back until I was "forced" to move across the aisle. I eventually settled in on the end, exactly "X" rows from the front. Yes, I counted. There were other well established sitters all around and I did not want to invade their territory.
Those occasions when I did mis-count caused tremendous problems over on our side of the church. (There should be a camera somewhere to record these things. It would make for a viral video, no doubt.) People would walk up and instantly go into a state of confusion. They would stumble around waving their arms and bumping into each other. "What are we gonna do? Where did our seats go?" "I don't know!" (kind of whiny.) "Well, where do you want to sit?" "I don't know. Where do you want to sit?" "I don't know where do you want to sit?" "I don't know. Where . . ."
This would be a good place to recount a couple of unintentional pew invasions I committed in my past. The first, many years ago, when our church was in a location where we did sit in pews, I decided to make a friend. I did not have many friends at the time. Most of my church relations were the "Hey, how ya doin'?" kind. Nothing with any depth to them. So, I spotted someone in my Sunday School class and decided that I would go and sit with them through the service. Sharon wasn't there that Sunday, so it was a good opportunity to do some relationship building.
I don't remember the reaction when I first sat down. I didn't really pay any attention. But, by the time the rest of the family and friends that, unrecognized by me until that time always pretty much filled out that pew, had arrived, I knew I had made a mistake. People are looking up and down the row trying to make room and trying to see what the problem is. Not a word was spoken, butt I knew that it was my rear end that was taking up precious space reserved for someone else. My mind was screaming "Abort the mission! Abort the mission!" But, it was too late. I was uncomfortable, unwanted and unwelcome. My quest for deeper relationships in the church ended until God began to put them together for me. (Another story for another time.)
Then there was the time I was visiting another church. Pews again, but that doesn't matter. I take a seat 2 or 3 rows from the front. In a few minutes I hear this heavy breathing beside me. And it has nothing to do with me being a hunk or anything. I wish blogger had sound effects, you would be quite entertained by the symphony of strange sounds produced by heavy exhaling, sucking air in through an almost closed mouth, rustling of clothing turning here and there and then something akin to stomps accompanied by grunts as they made their way onto the pew in front of me. It was the mama of a young family. Maybe she was noisily, but wordlessly, making the point to her husband and children that if they had only moved a little faster that morning they would not have had to sit a whole row closer to the front of the church! Anyway, as a visitor, I was made to feel quite welcome as long as my visiting did not upset well established seating arrangements.
Back to present times, I began to experience some "shuffling" of sorts of seating which increasingly affected MY SEAT. That is why I used "X" number of rows a little earlier. (the "X" is to protect the identities of those who, quite innocently, I'm sure, took the place where I preferred to sit for so long. They are fine folks, I assure you.) One Sunday, Sharon and I are there, somewhere near "our spot" when Bro Chris says something, I really can't remember what it was, that prompted me to whisper to her, "Next Sunday, we're moving down there." I was pointing to the right section, front row. "We are?" she responded with understated enthusiasm. . "Yes, we are." And we did. I like the front for several reasons, one of which is that we are in little danger of being crowded out down there and we can't be accused of taking anyone else's seat.
As a side note, one of our young men came to me and said, "I saw you sitting down there on the front row. I want to come sit with you." To which I replied, "Come on down, I would be glad to have you." He did and I was. His work schedule has interrupted that arrangement and we don't get to sit together much these days. I miss you, Dustin! You are always welcome on the front row! As is anyone else. And I would be glad to move again to make room for anyone who is excited enough about what is going on to fill up the front row!
Chairs! I'm supposed to be talking about chairs!
So, the thing about pews is, like I already said, they can be a bit confining, or restricting. But rows of chairs are just as confining and restricting. The thing about chairs is that they can be moved, reformed from 3 or 4 sections of long rows into many sections of shorter rows with more accessible aisles. This was done in our church recently to a very mixed set of reviews.
Easter Sunday! Resurrection Day, of all days, we come in to a very different seating arrangement. Gone are the 3 aisles running from back to front, or front to back, whichever is your perspective. We now have . . . well, I haven't actually counted them yet . . . a bunch of sections, offset so that there is not a straight shot to the altar, or the door, whichever a person might be seeking. And, personally, I like it!
Decisions are made every time we meet. And many times, those decisions are meant to be made public. I have often wondered if those folks sitting in the middle of the row might be more easily moved to make a public decision if the way were made easier to get up in front of the public. Now it is. It is a short trip from the center of any section to the aisle and then to the front of the church.
One thing I love about Hillcrest now is that people are moved to go to the altar and pray at various moments during the services. It is prompted by the Holy Spirit, and so many people feel the freedom to take these steps to the altar. I have even had times when I was moved to go the the back of the church to pray. Maybe others have as well. Whatever the case, whichever the direction, now. maybe more people will respond to the Holy Spirit when He calls us to move out of our comfort zone there at "our spot" and into His power and grace at the altar of God. Too much distance. Too many chairs to bump into. Too many toes to avoid. Maybe all that has been a deterrent, a spirit-quencher. I don't know. In the past, I've been held back by less. But no more. Because once you take those few steps a whole new path opens to you, in more ways than one!
To a lot of people I have talked to, our new seating layout has a "free-er" feel to it. The set-up itself seems to call for us to move around, try a different spot, sit close to a whole new group of people, engage someone that we otherwise might not. Expand the fellowship! (And Hillcrest is known for our fellowship.) Some may still be grumbling just a bit and trying to adjust. Change is hard for some folks, and that's OK. But change will always be upon us in one form or another. And, at the moment, I'm having trouble bringing to mind a time when God told anyone to stay in the same place for very long. Maybe God asks, "Who shall I send?" because he knows most would rather just stay put.
Maybe we should all be less close minded about where we are going to sit in God's presence, and be more open hearted about where He wants to take us when we surrender to His call.
Thank you, Lord, for reminding us that following You is not at all about where we sit down!
PS Tonight, Wednesday, I go in and what do I do? I went right back to my usual Wednesday night spot! If I counted right there were 4 of us that kind of "stuck out". I didn't really notice until the preacher did! Hmmm . . .
So, I was looking for a video or a song that would fit this blog, and this is what I found. Please take it with the humor intended.: