In the most extreme example of “saving seats” I have ever seen, a Pennsylvania churchgoer was shot to death in the auditorium of Keystone Fellowship Church in 2016 after refusing to move out of a “reserved” seat. From the New York Daily News:
A churchgoer shot a fellow parishioner in a Pennsylvania church after a fight broke out over a seat in the sanctuary on Sunday, authorities say.
The argument started when a churchgoer told Robert Braxton III, 27, he was sitting in seats reserved for two other church members during Sunday service at the Keystone Fellowship Church, district attorney Kevin Steele said.
He yelled “don’t [expletive] touch me” after a church member tapped him on the shoulders to let him know he was in someone else’s seat.
A church member sitting behind Braxton tapped him on the shoulder to let him know the seats were reserved. Another couple put down two Bibles to save their spots before walking away.
A fight is about to break out, a punch is thrown, and a pistol is pulled, but God forbid we get out of the way before using the Bible to save our seat.
The next most-extreme case of seat claiming in church I know of was relayed to me years ago by the man who took part in the following shenanigans. While attending a wedding in east Georgia he noticed in the church’s auditorium dozens of pillows in the pews. Each pillow was embroidered with the name of a church member and used to reserve his or her seat week after week. After the wedding service was over and the auditorium emptied, he and his wife scrambled the pillows.
I’m sure Sister Hilda and Deacon Beauregard were less than pleased the next morning.
I have heard tales, perhaps apocryphal, of church members giving the evil-eye to guests who “are sitting in my seat,” and one or two of members who actually asked visitors to change seats.
And so goes the Missio Dei.
What’s It All about?
It is common for congregants to find a spot that is comfortable. Personally, I’m a “get there right about on time and find a seat in the back” kind of person. If I’m preaching I prefer to sit on the first or second row rather than the stage. I cannot speak for every other denomination, but in a Southern Baptist church there is rarely a rush to the front row.
But, I do not understand a person who feels like they own a particular piece of pew space to the exclusion of all others attenders. Perhaps if your eyesight is failing and you like to be close enough to make out “men like trees walking” it is understandable. But to stake a claim as if God himself granted you a permanent place?
I do not get it.
You do not own that pew, chair, bench, or ottoman, no matter how long you have attended your church. It does not matter if your dear old grandpappy was a charter member, or if his baby teeth are wrapped within an apron deep inside the cornerstone. It does not matter if your Mother personally stitched the first quilt ever drooled on in the church nursery. Nor does it matter if you donated to the building fund and a bronze memorial tag stating “In Honor Of” is on the end facing the pulpit. It does not belong to you.
At Least Five Problems With the “My Seat” Practice
First, it puts others second. When we stake a claim to a particular chair or pew spot we put ourselves before others. This is the antithesis of the Christian gospel, and is not what it means to love our neighbor. If something as trivial as a church seating arrangement causes you angst, you should check your heart for idolatry.
Second, it breeds discontent–our own. We cannot be content in worship if we feel like we have been slighted by another person in “our” seat. Arriving in the auditorium to find a guest in your normal spot should bring joy! Praise to God for the opportunity to make a new relationship should fill your soul. But when petty anger and frustration fill our hearts, the opportunity for authentic worship is gone.
Third, it is a godless priority. The Bible has a couple of things to say about seating. We are encouraged to take the lesser seat when invited to a banquet. Jesus said it is better to be moved closer to the front by the host than to be moved back to make room for the luminaries. In church settings James (2:1-4) encourages us to ensure equal seating between rich and poor. No preference is to be given related to status. Seating discrimination is against the law of love. No priority is given in scripture to a specific chair in a worship gathering.
(If you are the kind who wants to sit in the same place “so the preacher can always tell when I’m there,” you might check out Luke 11:43.)
Fourth, it replaces humility with rights. If there is any time and place we should seek humility it is with the gathering of the saints of God. Our coming together is a reminder how badly we need Jesus and each other. Let pride be decimated in the assembly of the saints.
“Seat claiming” is the opposite of humility. It asserts rights that God does not guarantee. It distances us from God and His mission.
Fifth, it can make other attenders ill-at-ease. No one who enters a worship service should give any thought at all as to where is the appropriate place to sit. Walking past row after row of Bibles, purses, coats, face-down bulletins, embroidered pillows,
trustee corpses, and other churchy paraphernalia, may cause one to wonder, “Is there any place I can sit without offending someone? Are guests welcome here? How do I get an assigned seat?” This is the wrong message to send in a gathering to worship Jesus.
The psalmist wrote, “I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.” In keeping with that sentiment, I’d rather stand under a speaker in the lobby than offend a person who drove to our worship service seeking Jesus, because I staked a claim on a seat that belongs to God Almighty.
This article was adapted from Kingdom in the Midst and is used with permission.