Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 29, 2004
Your place in the pews matters not
I was sure we were not too early for the worship service when we went to a synagogue -- a course requirement for the world religions class. In fact when we got there the Morning Prayer was well underway.
We were instructed to occupy the middle pews. Five minutes before the service began I was hoping the front pews would be filled with people. I was wrong. Most of the people occupied the back pews of the synagogue while there were at least four front pews empty.
I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself saying, “Oh, not only good Catholics sit at the back pew. Good Jews as well. Perhaps, Catholics got it from the Jews. After all Judaism is our parent religion.”
Later, when I told this observation back at the college one of my professors who happened to be Baptist said, “It’s the same in the Baptist Church.”
Why do people prefer to sit at the back pew of the church? What is so attractive about being at the back? I think it is safe to say that it doesn’t matter what church it is, there is a tendency for people to occupy the back pews first and when push comes to shove, the front pews become an option.
Is it because the first pews people see when they come into the church are the ones at the back?
Somebody said, “Well you know when you have children, especially when they are little, it’s practical to sit at the back so you can easily get out when they start making noise.”
“Those who don’t have children with them, do that because they wanted to leave the church as soon as the Mass is over.”
Another person explained that it could be psychological. “When you are in front, people at the back see you and could watch what you are doing. When you are at the back you can do the watching.”
There is also that possibility that people are concerned the priest might quiz them during the homily, said one of my classmates.
What does sitting in the back pews tell the people?
“It is an indication that they do not really want to be there,” somebody said.
I wouldn’t go that far. I do believe people wouldn’t come to church if somebody else -- except maybe the Holy Spirit -- forced them. But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t do that.
Back home in the Philippines, I have never seen front pews without people. Sometimes they were not fully occupied but rarely would there be no one sitting in the front pew. However the situation there is different because people donated the pews and their names are printed on the pew. People tend to sit in the pew they donated.
I have heard it asked more than once, “What if we only have front pews and no back pews?” It would be a funny looking church if we did that.
Normally those who are new in the church sit at the back. Regular parishioners most of the time prefer the middle pew, while those who are actively involved in the parish do not have qualms about sitting in front.
Could we say then, that where you sit in the church indicates your nearness to God? Unfortunately where one sits at the church does not indicate such. I wonder what would happen to the front pews if that were the case.
I believe it doesn’t really matter to God where we sit in the church. I think what matters is our full and conscious participation in the celebration.
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