17 August 2012

A Brief History of Seating in the Christian Church

Today's post at the American Church History blog is actually a guest post that comes to us from Joshua Gabrielson, who is a consultant involved in church furnishings. He also contributes to a relatively new blog that, in addition to dealing with his various product lines, also at times discusses current and historical developments in European and American church history related to the furnishings that people placed in the spaces in which they worshiped. You may find some other topics of interest at Joshua's Church Furniture blog.

Before you begin complaining about the hard pews you sit on at church, think about the early Christians, gathered together wherever they could meet, only allowing the weak, sick and elderly to sit on benches and walls of stone. The able-bodied gatherers stood as they listened to the preacher and speakers while mingling with other community Christians. Only during the Reformation Period, sparked by German priest and monk, Martin Luther, did church-goers begin to rest and relax by sitting during church services. But even then, the congregation often sat on cold, rough stone. Those pews are starting to sound a little better, aren’t they?

The earliest pews simply consisted of placing stones alongside one another in front of a wall, which served as the back of the pew. After the reformation of the church, the wooden pew was introduced. Individuals and families would bring in their own wooden, backed benches for use within their close family and friends. Eventually, pews were no longer considered an individual’s private property when they were provided by the church. Not long afterward, these staples of church furniture began to be permanently fixed to the floor for stability and were considered a basic element of the modern  church sanctuary.

But in the modern world of comfort and convenience, even the centuries-old tradition of adorning church sanctuaries with wooden pews is going by the wayside. The newest church seating tradition stars the church chair – available in a wide variety of styles, sizes, colors and even shapes. Chairs’ fabric is often customized to match the sanctuary’s surroundings, blending the palettes of the carpet, wall color and other color and decorative schemes in your church environment. It is unusual to find a new church building being erected that plans to use pews instead of church chairs. Why?
The American Christian church has been in the process of shifting its physical style for decades. Television ministers are implementing podiums, rather than traditional wooden pulpits, for their sermon delivery. We are seeing more nontraditional materials for church furniture, such as aluminum, titanium, acrylic and tempered glass. And as you watch your favorite minister on television, notice what the congregation is sitting on. It’s not pews, it’s church chairs.

On average, you can seat approximately 20 percent more people in a sanctuary filled with rows of chairs than one full of pews. In pews, people tend to place personal items beside them, whether a conscious effort to prevent other members from sitting too close or not. Other times, families will “claim” a pew in the church, leaving other members of the congregation feeling that they are not welcome to sit there. With church chairs, people tend to better utilize the space. Sometimes, one chair will be left empty to separate people for personal space, but overall, more seating is used for what it is meant for – sitting.

Joshua Gabrielson is a professional church consultant and owns and operates Heavenly Pulpits in Virginia.

1 comment: