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The Book: Reinventing Sunday

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Pews: Keeping worshipers "in their place" 
for generations...

          When I’m not working with a church on a weekend or leading worship, I visit a wide variety of churches. Recently, I worshiped in a large, traditional mainline church. As Rita and I walked into the beautiful, gothic-style sanctuary, we searched for a seat that would put us in the heart of the nave. We found one at the front of the middle section of pews. Just as worship began, a woman moved into the pew from the side with a “searching” look on her face. In fact, during the fist hymn she kept glancing past us to the space between Rita and another worshiper. Following the opening hymn, while we offered the peace to those around us, a man joined the woman next to us, and both of them wedged themselves between us and the aisle. As we all sat down, Rita grabbed her purse which was about to be crushed by the man who was now sitting down in Rita’s seat and we quickly moved to the far end of the pew to get out of the way. Clearly, we had placed ourselves in “their seats.” We were visitors. No hello. No acknowledgement of our presence. Only the clear message, “you’re in our pew.”

          Pews….they’ve helped defined generations of church-goers. They empower us to stake a claim in the sanctuary and tempt us to become spectators rather than participants in the act of worship.

          One of the most amazing examples of “the pew” is to be found in the Northeast corner of Yorkshire in England . I visited there a couple of years ago. Here's what I found.

          St Mary's church sits up on a cliff top above the English sea-side village of Whitby . The church, built in 1110, is still the Parish Church and is used for Sunday services and the town’s official functions.

          British historian Simon Jenkins calls the interior of St. Mary’s church “the ecclesiastical equivalent of the center court at Wimbledon .” For centuries, those with money, the sea merchants and financiers of the town, sat in balcony pews set aside especially for them. 

          As you can see in the above photo, these box pews, built in the 1600’s, were "reserved" for their wealthy occupants. From their “bleachers” those with money could look down on the lower classes seated below.

          The especially poor sat in pews at the back of the church, out of view from those in the balcony. Their pews were marked, “free.”

          Visitors were given clearly marked pews that said, “for strangers only,” designating their place in worship. 

          St. Mary's may seem a relic of the past, an interesting museum of attitudes long gone. 

          Sadly, while we moderns may not affirm such blatant designations or seating patterns, pews keep worshipers "fixed" in place, facing forward, watching the presenters up front do the work of worship. 

          Interested in reading more about pews? Click here:

Dan Kimball's thoughts on pews...


For More Information Contact Brad Berglund


Reinventing Sunday

8273 E. Davies Avenue   •   Centennial, Colorado 80112

Toll free: 877.489.8500   •   Phone: 720.489.8073

www.reinventingsunday.com   •   brad@reinventingsunday.com

Consultant and Author Brad Berglund     Taizé     Taizé-style worship in the Denver area 
Workshops on Taizé-style worship     The Book Reinventing Sunday  
Read the Foreword by Ken Medema     Brad's Speaking Schedule     Past Events          
Spiritual Formation     Pilgrimage to Ireland     Join the Mailing List     Links     Pews

Other important Information:
Spiritual Growth Resources for Pastors
     Frequently Asked Questions about Spiritual Formation
     A Sample one-day Reinventing Sunday workshop