Q: Dear Pastor,
I visited a church recently where an old woman asked me to move because I sat in her seat. Do churches have assigned seats? I was unaware of this.
A: No, churches don’t have assigned seats. At least I hope not! And let me apologize to you on behalf of churches, church-members and clergy everywhere — what you experienced is not supposed to happen. Please forgive us for not making you feel more welcome! I’m praying you were not humiliated by that “sweet little church lady” and have forgiven her also. In the words of Jesus Christ our Lord, “They know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
First, thank you for visiting a church. Most people stay out of church not only because of embarrassing events like what you experienced, but also because it takes a lot of courage to show up at all. Churches can become like country clubs where everyone knows each other and any new face is either singled-out for being new, hand-shaked half to death, or completely ignored and rejected. People avoid church because they’re unsure “how they do it” i.e. when to stand-up/sing; sit-down/pass the plate; recite something; kneel down [or not]; pass communion in the pews or get in a line at the front of the sanctuary, etc. It can be terrifying to figure it all out!
Every church has its own culture and system, and popping in on one is very much like landing on the moon.
The fact that you are church-shopping to find a spiritual home means that you are serious about God. He is thrilled by your effort! In spite of these hiccups, you will surely land in a great spot.
However, there’s no question that denominations need to get better at welcoming others. Thank God we have events that bring denominations together as a collective welcoming committee as many members of clergy are getting the memo from Christ to illustrate more unity among his followers.
Now, about the church-lady and her pew-obsession: Unfortunately … it happens.
Take the high road along with me and think of her as an infant. That precious old gal probably arrived in that church in a baby blanket. She cut her teeth on that very pew, was raised in that congregation, grew into a young woman who held fast to the faith that formed her life, and now, at age 85, is sitting in the spot that blessed four generations of her family. Her seat at the church on Sunday means more to her than you or I can imagine or relate to. She sits there and remembers brothers and sisters, moms, dads, grandparents and kinfolk of every ilk, gathering together on some of the happiest days of her life. She is warmed by the comfort of familiarity — maybe the only comfort she has now — remembering the past and of those loved ones in heaven who once shared her pew. She doesn’t mean to be offensive when she says, “That’s my seat.” She is simply explaining to you that she belongs there. Please forgive her.
I’m proud to say that my Methodist church is extraordinarily friendly. They are experts at making folks feel welcome and radiate joy when a new person stops in on Sunday. I have a keen eye on our welcoming-barometer and I can honestly report that we do well in that area.
After reading this, I pray for your better understanding of “church ladies” and that you are able to extend them grace. After all, you and I may find ourselves in the church-lady category soon enough!
— Adrienne Greene pastors the Rockdale United Methodist Church. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030. Facebook.com/adrienne.w.greene.
Ask Pastor Adrienne: Do churches have assigned seats?
Q: Dear Pastor,