History of Church Seating
By Carol Barnier –
It’s happening again. Another local church is talking about ditching the traditional pews in favor of something more plush and comfortable. I really feel uneasy about this. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere in Leviticus a warning about the ungodliness of a relaxed posterior and the slippery slope of comfortable worship.
Amazingly, the idea of sitting in church didn’t even emerge until the Reformation. It’s true! Up till that time, those poor German peasants worked hard all week long and then went to church on the day of rest to do what? STAND and listen to a sermon in a language they didn’t even speak. You may not have known this, but when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, thesis number 58 was, “It’s time to let us sit down in church for crying out loud!”
In some churches today you’ll see kneelers. These little flip down steps of wonder were put in place for the ease of congregants whose church liturgies involved more and more kneeling. But no such devices can be found in the earliest church structures. That’s because the preferred submission position was prostrate (face down, flat on the ground) and the early church architects felt a flip down panel accommodating this practice would require too much space between the pews. Besides, early attempts of this device revealed a flaw that sometimes catapulted would-be-supplicants up and over the altar.
Eventually kneeling did emerge as the preferred method of humility. However, for quite some time, the earliest congregations needed no such kneelers. They were of hardier stock and found the cold solid stone against their knees refreshing. But then the Church Potluck was introduced and folks began having problems with the getting back up part. Enter: the kneelers. Followed by kneelers not quite so close to the ground. Then, the padded kneelers. Then ,the intricately needle-pointed padded kneelers. I think heated gel pads and a lift ticket are the next obvious mutation.
Now seating is growing more and more like expensive theatrical events. Stain resistant. Deeply cushioned. Padded armrests. Sometimes even with cup holders. I fully expect this trend toward more technology will eventually include an electronic circuitry panel embedded into the backs of the seats in front of us allowing us to provide constant assessment and feedback of the pastor’s efforts.
My current level of interest….hmmm…my mind did wander just a bit there. I’ll give him a 4. Clearly he’s trying. But that passage about Cain and Able could have used a bit more action and drama. A video clip would have been nice. Well, maybe just a 3 then.
I’m thinking we’ve got this backwards. The technology should be on the side of the preacher. If we begin to whisper and be distracted or start nodding off, he would have several buttons of wonder at his disposal. First offense, the chair simply vibrates. Sort of a you’ve-been-warned sensation. The second option would be a sort of elevator that lifts you up over the crowd a good three feet, so that others will know of your transgressions. For the really offensive congregants or those who’ve completely gone to sleep, I’m thinking a mild seat-imbedded tazer is in order.
Okay, perhaps a bit much. But you know what they say. If you laid all the sleepers in church end-to-end along the pews … they’d be a lot more comfortable.