Zelophehad’s Daughters

Pewferences

Posted by Ziff

I’ve just moved into a new ward, and I got to thinking about how people pick where to sit in sacrament meeting.

In no particular order, here are a few of my random thoughts on the topic:

  • In most wards I’ve lived in, it seems like there are a lot of people who sit in pretty much the same place every week. Subject to some constraints noted below, I tend toward doing this. It’s probably more out of habit than a deliberate choice, though. Now that I think about it, I kind of like the idea of trying to sit somewhere different every week just to meet people who I don’t know yet.
  • Much as I might like to sit in the same place every week, I’m not going to go so far as to arrive really early to secure just the right spot.
  • Since having kids, my wife and I have spent lots of sacrament meetings in the foyer. It’s not that our kids have been unusually unruly and need to leave the meeting a lot. It’s more that we tend to reinforce each other’s Sunday morning procrastination when it comes to getting the kids ready, so we’re chronically late. On the bright side, I’ve enjoyed a lot of fun conversations with fellow ward members in the foyer.
  • On the occasions when my family actually arrives early, we often end up chatting with some friend or other in the ward, and then sit next to them because that’s where we are when the meeting is about to start.
  • In most cases, I would rather sit toward the back rather than toward the front. I’m not sure why this is. Social anxiety, maybe. I would rather be able to see the backs of other people’s heads than have them be able to see the back of mine. There are two exceptions I can think of. When someone I know is giving a talk and I want to be supportive (or perhaps try to make them laugh [but I actually haven’t done that recently]), I might sit near the front where they can see me. The other is when the sound system is broken, which it was once when I went to stake conference and sat way in the back. I ended up just giving up and leaving early.
  • I would usually rather sit on the side than in the middle. Related to the previous point, ideally I just want to be near a wall so I can see everyone spread out in front of me. Also, kids are easier to contain in a side pew than in a middle one. In the church building where my new ward meets, though, this is not the case, as the side pews are set a couple of feet away from the wall. I cannot fathom why someone would design a chapel this way. Pews running all the way to the wall are not only better for kid containment, they’re a better use of space.
  • I once lived in a ward where there wasn’t really enough space in the chapel for everyone, but the powers that be refused to allow the curtains to be opened so the overflow could be used. To me, this seems like it’s telling people they’re not wanted at church. I’m not a fan of it. Orwell posted about this problem at Mormon Mentality a few years ago, and he made a good list of potential problems.
  • Alternatively, I’ve been in meetings that were so full that the bishop (or whoever was conducting) invited people to come sit in the choir seats. My impression was that people were reluctant to take him up on it. It just feels like you’re a little bit on stage when you’re up there not to sing or give a talk or anything.
  • Another solution to a crowded chapel is for the conducting person to ask everyone to squeeze in so that late arrivers can sit at the ends. I love how people tend to do this squeezing so minimally and unenthusiastically. (At least I do.) If I arrived early enough to secure a coveted spot at the end of a pew, it seems unfair that I should have to give it up to some ne’er-do-well who couldn’t even be bothered to arrive on time! (Never mind that most weeks, I’m that ne’er-do-well.)
  • I’m less likely to sit in the same place every week in Sunday School or priesthood meetings than in sacrament meeting. I’m not sure why.
  • In second- and third-hour meetings, I really prefer to sit all the way on the back row (if there are rows at all–in elders’ quorum, there typically aren’t). My major motive is that I want to be able to be supportive to the teacher by reading scriptures or making comments. I’ve had several teaching callings, and I know how frustrating it can be when nobody in the class will say anything. From my well-chosen back row spot, I can tell if the teacher is getting plenty of participation, in which case I’ll only raise my hand if there’s something I really want to say (which happens less often than you might think!), or is getting few comments, in which case I will try to increase my participation to make the class go more smoothly.

How do you choose where to sit in church?

22 Responses to “Pewferences”

  1. 1.

    one of the fun things about changing pews every week is that you get to upset the maximum number of people by sitting in *their* places. yes, i am that perverse. my only other reasons for where i sit are: not sitting by people who drive me crazy and not sitting near my husband because he would not help enforce the bare minimum of socially acceptable bahavior in our children and since he wouldn’t, i couldn’t.

  2. 2.

    My peculiar situation drives me to make some conscious choices that are opposite to yours:

    Poor eyesight drives me to near the front and center of the chapel, where, if I can’t see the facial expression of the speaker at least I can tell where his head is and can look vaguely where his eyes probably are. When I can’t see him, I tend to gaze around looking for something I can see, and I’m afraid that looks unsupportive and like I’m bored, if anyone on the stand happens to notice.

    Also, I sit in the same general area (doesn’t have to be precisely the same, but in the 3rd to 5th pew, somewhere left of center) precisely because we tend to sit in the same general area. My ward is so freaking huge — 600 adults — that even after 18 months I am surrounded by a sea of total strangers, most of whom I not only don’t know by name or personal story, but whom I can’t remember even having seen before. Sitting in the same place means that I have come to at least recognize 12-15 ward members, even if all I know is that this one always wears bright colors and that one sings without a hymnbook and this other one is so adamant about having the end seat that she will stand and step into the aisle four or five or ten times to let others in rather than scoot in herself.

    But like you, there doesn’t seem to be the same territoriality by anyone in the other two meetings.

  3. 3.

    I’m a creature of habit when choosing a seat in sacrament meeting, but sometimes other people disrupt that habit, which is fine with me. I used to sit in the next to last pew of the middle, center right. Now my preferred position is last pew in the middle, far left. But that’s premium space, and often people will get there before me. When that happens, I sit on a side pew on the left.

  4. 4.

    1. No side pew anymore, too many kids for our side pews. We have to do middle.
    2. We were late for many years so we sat wherever (occasionally front, usually back). Become more difficult with larger family. I grew up sitting front, my husband wanted back.
    3. Advantages of front: Kids are so much better behaved in front. I secretly loved being called as Music Director so I could sit in the 2nd row with my family and then just go up for hymns. I agree with Orson Scott Card’s suggestions that kids are better behaved when you arrive on time and you sit near the front….they actually see the action and realize something is going on and feel a part of it. Also, I see the expressions of the speaker. I feel like a significant part of the meeting.
    4. After 4 years as Music Director we have a “spot” but it did change from side to side based on what the organist preferred. People around us in the middle are usually the same but not always. We just get the same few front/middle people cycling through based on availability that week. People on the side pew next to us are usually exactly the same.
    5. As the Music Director it was fun to know where to find faces in the congregation. It really seemed like the side pews and back pews were very, very static. The middle and the overflow would change more from week to week. The middle pews have a few people who would be the same but lots of changing around them (although many of them were like electrons just bouncing in their shell).

  5. 5.

    I just have to make sure we aren’t near any of the anti-child persnickety people. I made the mistake last week of being too close to one and as I was taking my son out at the end of the meeting (only 5 minutes left- that’s not bad for a 2 year old!) I got the evil eye from one of the regular anti-child people. Not sure why they were upset- I was taking the kid out!

    We have actually found the middle of a big row to be good for child control. If your kids are intimidated enough by strangers, the couple of people on each end are good for keeping your kids in the row. I’ve found the side rows to be so full of kids that they end up crawling under pews and playing more than when we’re in the middle.

    Re: side rows and big families: Growing up my family took up 2 side rows. My parents sat behind all of us kids to keep us in line.

  6. 6.

    We meet in a stake center. The last 3 pews in the center section have permanent signs on them that say “reserved for parents of small children.” I can recall at least three GAs who demanded they be removed, one in particular who went ballistic over the pulpit, going on for about 20 minutes on the evil of those signs. “remove them! Pry them off! They are offensive! Children are to be welcome wherever they desire, although of course the front rows are best so they can be a part of the action! Those back rows ought to be occupied by High Priests, who are just sleeping anyway. ” The signs are still there.

    We moved here when our kids were 7, 3, and newborn, and even before the signs were a concern of visiting GAs, we always sat on the first few rows. Not the very front, which has no real boundaries, but a couple of rows back. I’d try to keep my little ones involved by whispering, ” Look, Jeremy’s mom is speaking, ” and “see, Sister Hill is standing up, so it’s time to sing. Can you find the right page in the book?” We have had quite a few ward members suggest that perhaps we had missed the clearly posted signs, but we ignored them. Our kids were relatively well behaved, if only because they understood that they would be Sent Out for infractions. Going Out was way less interesting than Being In. Out meant getting plopped on a chair in a dim room in silence, bored silly. In, they could draw or play with tiny cars, so long as they could at any moment answer the parental whisper, “what’s he’s speaking about?” accurately. My kids grew up just fine, thank you.

    We still sit in more or less the same region, except now our kids are grown and we have grandchildren nearby. One large family puzzles me. They take up 3 pews on the left side of middle, on the aisles, 2-4 per row, behind one another. Aisles are prime real estate. Our ward is small, takes up less than 1/3 of the chapel, unless there are babies to be blessed, and pretty much no one sits in the middle of the middle.
    We avoid sitting by a few select families, not because of their children, but because the adults talk Non Stop through meetings, and I don’t mean whispers. I don’t want to hear about that article in Time magazine about fish during the sacrament, or about the new lawn care products’ efficiency during a testimony. The back two rows on the left are filled with widows, the back row is where the missionaries sit, and other families are just as territorial as we, it seems!

  7. 7.

    For years we would arrive early because I was the organist and expected to play prelude. Even arriving ten minutes before the meeting started gave us our choice. My wife liked to sit on the side where the organ is, on the pew next to the thremostat. After she died, I would just go down once the sacrament was over and sit on the front rows where the deacons had been. I got released a couple of months ago, and now I just find a seat anywhere there is an open spot. Our ward is small enough that it isn’t a problem.

  8. 8.

    My husband attends morning meetings so we arrive at church separately, so sitting in roughly the same place all the time makes it easier to find each other.

  9. 9.

    No pews. :( The advantage is that chairs clearly define the number of people per row. The disadvantage is that I worry about whether my shirt rides up in the back, you see everything because there are no solid pews to hide anything, and my daughter fell through the back of the chair last week.
    We sit in the second row on the inside aisle. I was raised in a second-row family. It is nice not to be distracted by all the playing children and their noise. I can hold my daughter and let her look back over my shoulder, though, when she needs to be distracted.

  10. 10.

    When our children were very small, infants/toddlers, we sat at the back to be less of a distraction when we had to leave with them, when they wanted to sprawl on the pew, kneel on the floor, etc. But when they reached about 3 or 4 we realized that we were just facilitating their lack of reverence. We moved to the front and center and have stayed there ever since. Doing that really did make them more reverent.

  11. 11.

    I was in a college class once where we took the Myers-Briggs personality test, and then, while discussing the results, noticed that all the introverts were sitting on the side of the room closest to the door, while all the extroverts were sitting on the other side. We hypothesized that it was because the introverts just wanted to come in and find a place as quickly as possible, to minimize the amount of greeting and talking they’d have to do.

    I often reflect on that when I think about where we sit in sacrament meeting–my husband and I are both introverts, and I don’t feel like we know many people in the ward especially well (despite having been in the ward for over a year), so we sit on the side, as close to the door as possible, as that maximizes the speed with which we can escape after sacrament meeting. We’re also creatures of habit, as we’re usually in one of the back three rows on the side. Sometimes, if those rows are full, we’ll end up in one of the back three rows on the other side.

    Another advantage of being on the side–as TopHat mentioned, the side tends to be more populated by kids playing around and crawling under the pews. (We’re in the same ward, so I can testify that she’s right about our ward, at least.) I’m childless myself but I find it hard to pay attention in sacrament meeting, so I love being surrounded by adorable children who can distract me from the meeting (and vice versa, I must confess!).

  12. 12.

    Our building has (from front to rear) padded pews, padded chairs, and at the back in padded chairs. When I was in callings that placed me on the stand I often shook my head as folks took the least comfortable chairs (the back) when there was available space on the most comfortable (pews).

  13. 13.

    I made a decision when I was pregnant with my second baby that I was going to nurse during sacrament meeting right there in the pew, church social norms be damned. The mother’s lounge in our building – which is a verrrry old SLC building – is pretty awful. But even if it wasn’t…I don’t see the big deal. So I began staking my little family’s claim to a pew on the side where I thought we’d be as inconspicuous as possible. To everyone but the bishopric of course. A few other women were pregnant at the time and they wanted to do the same thing. At one point there were 3 or 4 of us nursing our babies during sacrament meeting. It was fantastic. So now we sit on the side, surrounded by other friends with young kids. I am expecting #3 any day now and am glad for our little territory off to the side.

  14. 14.

    The last Bishop I had was the opposite way with the overflow – it didn’t need to be opened as the chapel could seat everyone comfortably, but he would open it because he had a goal to increase attendance until opening it would have been required.

  15. 15.

    our stake has the dreaded Sac Mtg last schedule, so half the gospel doctrine class leaves partway through to go save seats in the chapel.

  16. 16.

    If we make it to the pews in time for the sacrament, and manage to stay there throughout the sacrament, I consider the Sunday a resounding success. I never like to sit in the chairs at the back even when the curtain’s open because my kids are inclined to knock them over or fall through the space in the back and clonk their heads.

    I’m pretty skeptical of Card’s methods, but perhaps that’s because as a lone parent at church with two small children–one of whom is especially active–I’m unable to implement them.

  17. 17.

    People tend to sit in the same general areas, more out of habit than anything else. No one gets particularly bent out of shape in our ward if “their seat” is taken – they just sit somewhere else.

    We tend to sit near the back, but I’ve always done that as far back as I can remember, even in school. We prefer a back pew, because it’s padded, but if that’s taken, we just go sit on chairs in the gym. We have a big ward and regularly fill half the gym for regular Sunday meetings. If it’s a farewell of something, we usually fill back to (and sometimes on) the stage.

    The most humorous thing I see is all the people that sit on the stand. We obviously have the bishopric up there. Any of the stake presidency that happen to be at the mtg sit up there (and 2 out of 3 are in the ward). We also have GA in the ward, and they sit up there too if they’re in town. So it’s quite frequent that we have 7 people sitting to the right of the podium (as seen from the audience). There are only 5 actual seats, so they set up folding chairs so they can all be there. Especially at a testimony mtg when there is no one on the other side of the podium, it looks a bit strange to see all these men in white shirts sitting in a big line. It seems very “imbalanced”, but that’s probably just me.

  18. 18.

    I was a teenager in a particular ward a (some random number) of decades ago. Many families had their own spots (ours was right behind the deacons, I think so my dad could bop heads as needed).

    A couple of years ago we (with me as an adult) moved into the ward and I stood up to give the “Hi we’re the new ones” talk. As I looked out on the congregation, I said what popped into my head: “It’s great to be back at the podium where I gave my very first Sacrament Meeting talk. It’s so much like coming home again to see so many familiar faces – most of you in the same spots you were in ___ years ago when I gave that first SM talk.”

    We’ve tried sitting all over in that ward now – in the back so we could make a quick escape with feisty toddlers, in the very, very front so we’d have room to spread out, in the middle to be near “grandparently” types, on the side toward the front so we (I) could be near the organ.

    The place that seems to have worked best for our crew is the nursery with the sound piped in from the chapel and the toys scattered over the floor. (I miss the cry rooms of my youth, I guess.)

  19. 19.

    I’ve been thinking about this recently. I realized part of the reason I was avoiding getting ready on time for sacrament meeting (other than it being at 9am and me hating mornings) is that we sat in the very front row in the middle, and just the thought of it was stressing me out. I discussed it with my husband, and we’re back to sitting in the back again (yes, the very back on the hard chairs), and I’m much happier to go to sacrament meeting than I was.

    Also, to add to reasons people sit a particular place, we had been sitting in the front middle because with my kids FAs they get separate bread for the sacrament, and if we were in the front middle the deacon who had it could find us to give it to us. It’s about the only spot anywhere near the front (where we’re easily visible to the deacons) that wasn’t taken if we got there a few minutes late (most weeks). One week it was taken when we got there and we sat toward the back of the pews in the middle, and I literally had to stand up and wave to help the deacon find us. That was worse than just sitting up front.

    Also, I was okay with the sitting up front, even walking in and sitting up front after the meeting had already started, when we had 1pm church. It was when we switched to 9am that I started avoiding going in time for the sacrament so I wouldn’t have to choose between sitting right up front or standing up and waving during the sacrament. I always knew I didn’t deal well with people in the mornings, but I didn’t realize until I was examining my reasons for avoiding being to church on time recently how much worse my social anxiety with large groups of people is in the morning. So until the end of the year we’re just not worrying about the kids or I having bread, and I’m much happier going to church.

  20. 20.

    Also, while I don’t have specific places I sit, when thinking about this I realized I almost always sit on the left side, in sacrament, GD and RS. I’m not sure why — maybe because I more naturally turn to my right? Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

  21. 21.

    Lately, I’ve started sitting as far in the back as I can, on the fold-up chairs. It’s so interesting to see everybody else, and you notice lots of little things.

    But the best part is that you meet the most interesting people in the far back — the marginal members, people who have been gone for a while but are giving church another try, the people who aren’t connected to the ward the way other people might be. I like sitting by them and talking to them.

    One disadvantage: This guy comes to church right after his shift as a cook at Denny’s, without changing his clothes first. So on fast Sunday I’m sitting next to somebody who smells like pancakes and bacon!

  22. 22.

    But the best part is that you meet the most interesting people in the far back — the marginal members, people who have been gone for a while but are giving church another try, the people who aren’t connected to the ward the way other people might be. I like sitting by them and talking to them.

    Oh, I like this. I’m glad you’re doing this.

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