Thursday, December 31, 2009

Right side, left side, back or front?

Way back on the Epistle side of the sanctuary in the very last pew is where you'll find the Johnsons every Sunday. Since Don uses a walker, he sits near the exit with his wife, daughter and grandchildren at his side.

Up front on the Gospel side are the Andersons, behind them the Swansons. Travel straight back to the center of the church and you’ll find the Larsons, next to the Larsons are the Smiths.

Behind the Smiths, the Bensons and clear in the rear on the Gospel side are the Gibsons.
My attention was first drawn to the territorial nature of where people sit in church some years ago on Good Friday. My congregation was producing a play that I wrote entitled "Marys Crossing." We all hoped the edgy Passion drama, which is written from the female perspective, would bring in a crowd of newcomers, and it did just that.

The night of the performance, dozens upon dozens of unfamiliar faces filed into the church, flushing the Johnsons, the Andersons and others out of their galvanized positions. Even the balcony was filled for the first time in decades.

Bernie, whose spot was taken, was miffed. "Hey, someone took my seat," he whispered to me.

"Yes, isn't that grand," I said, ever so pleased with the turn out. "Looks like you'll have to find to a new place tonight."

As I watched Bernie begrudgingly shuffle his way into the sanctuary, I considered the fixed places we assign ourselves and wondered what would happen if we moved around now and then.

I once knew a woman who left her church all because of the seating chart nature of the place.

"When I saw Linda’s picture in the Obituaries, I felt sad and mad at the same time," she fumed. "Linda always sat on the left side and, of course, I always sat on the right. I knew her face, but I never learned her name, never once spoke to her," she continued with tears welling in a sideways glance, her lips pinching back grief.

"There's something wrong," she blurted mournfully. "We are silently segregating ourselves from one another and nothing is being done about it! That's not what church is supposed to be. It's just not the Christian thing to do, so I quit going."

I first experienced an antidote to such self-segregation at a Latino worship service.
During the "Sharing of the Peace," everyone got out of their seats and greeted each other in two processional circles that moved in opposite directions around the perimeter of the sanctuary.

Conscious of my own fixed place in church, I occasionally force myself to sit on the other side. It is a different experience for me. At first, I feel out of place and a little uncomfortable.

But there in the front corner on the Epistle side far from where I usually sit on Sunday morning, my circle widens. I shake hands with and speak to people for the first time. I hear new voices. I experience a new brand of fellowship without even leaving the building.
So I'm wondering, where do you sit in church?

2009 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took three first-place awards. To contact Paula, email, follow her blog at and find her on Facebook.

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