Church Pews Be Gone

My column this week. I had a few thoughts on church pews. What are your thoughts? Comfort or beauty?

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of July 10, 2017

I love the look of old church pews. I wouldn’t mind having an old church pew in my home for looks but not for sitting. As I lifted my creaky back up off a hard church pew one Sunday morning I wondered why we hold on to the old-fashioned church pews in many of our churches. Let’s face it, they are uncomfortable, and they are hard on the back.

Yes, we have some cushioned church pews in my church, but since I am short when I sit on the cushion my feet do not touch the ground and I am uncomfortable. But cushions do not fix the slanted back. And while I am short many tall people have a hard time with small pews, which are in many old churches. Am I complaining? Probably and there is no fix, but I wondered how those uncomfortable church pews got started.

Before the construction of church buildings, people met in houses. Long bed-like cushions were provided on which people would recline to eat their meals. I could handle reclining while eating. When the Eucharist was served they would stand.

When the first church buildings were resurrected people would stand or kneel at the service. The Protestant revolution introduced the sermon as the central part of worship and the pew appeared. Since churches could not afford them, people would purchase what was called pew boxes because they could be locked up and no one else could use them.

During the mid-19th century, pew rents were offered for those who could not afford to buy their pew. These pews were a cheaper version and called the “cheap seats.” Those unable to afford pew rents were given unassigned seats at the church.

There are different designs of pews. Some were fancy and others were rough with slivers to remind people of Christ’s death. Some pew designs are ornate and lavish. Backs of pews may be straight or angled. Some pews are small in size. In older churches most pews face the front of the church and the pulpit, not allowing for conversation or interaction with the others sitting in church.

That makes me wonder why we keep the pews. Early church services were held in the home, and people could look each other in eye and interact with one another. Then when buildings came into place people stood to pray and again could move around and have a conversation with other congregants. Why are we not doing that now? Why are we holding on to those church pews — besides the fact that most of them are pretty?

Some congregations are moving into a new generation of worship when they build new facilities replacing the pews with comfortable chairs which are easy on people’s backs. I would imagine people with arthritis, back problems and disabilities appreciate the change.

Chairs aren’t always set up in a straight line. They can be moved, and they may be moved in a circular pattern so people can change directions and look at one another, being able to have a conversation when the time arises. One of my favorite parts of the service at my church is the sharing of the peace where we can move around and meet and greet people and look someone in the eye so they know we care.

There are traditions we need to hold onto in our churches which affect the theology of the church. In my opinion, church pews are not one of them. Instead of worrying about the aesthetics of a church, and yes we need to keep up our buildings so they don’t fall down, I would rather have a well-used and worn church where people feel comfortable and at home.

When we invite people to our houses we offer them comfortable chairs, something to refresh their thirst and good conversation. We want them to feel at home in our home. Shouldn’t we want the same thing in our churches? Don’t we want our churches to be a place of peace, rest, and refreshment in a world full of strife and stress where they can feel accepted and hear God’s word? We are not perfect people. There is not one of us who doesn’t sin, so wouldn’t we want to welcome all to our comfortable church home?

I must admit there are days we don’t attend church when our backs make it difficult for us to sit in the hard pews. We watch the service live streaming at home, but by doing that we miss conversations with others that might revive us for the week and make a difference in our life.

This is an opinion column. My opinion: Pews be gone.

Missing Those Saints

This column ran in the Courier Sentinel this week but the last few paragraphs were left off. This is the entire column.

I have written the column Something About Nothing since 2005. It appears every Monday in the
Albert Lea Tribune and every other week in the Courier Sentinel. Usually it is the same column
in both papers.  

I have decided I want to branch out with another column called Sprinkled Notes. It matches my
blog of the same name. On my blog the blurb says it is about a little bit of “this n’ that.” It makes  sense to link the two together. So please bear with me. My new column is going to make its  debut in this paper and will be a different topic than published on Something About Nothing.  

Sprinkled Notes

Missing Those Saints

We have a term in our church called Senior Saints. I suppose I could call myself a member of
the Senior Saints now that I have reached that age. By that age I mean the age at which one  considers someone a Senior Citizen which seems to vary from person to person and store to store. However, I am far from being a Saint.  

The reason the Senior Saints are on my mind is a member of our church died this weekend. Her
name was Grace, and in my mind she was a Saint long before she became a Senior.

Others from our congregation have gone before her and some of their names will live in my heart and mind forever too. Names such as Gerald, Lorraine, Emily, Wilbert and Donny, to name a few. These people made a difference in my life. None of them would have called  themselves saints. They went through their life touching people. None of them achieved what  the world would call greatness. They weren’t lauded across the nation or broadcast on Social  Media, but they made a steady difference in the life of the people they met every day, and the  life of their church and especially their families. The one thing they had in common was their love of God and they showed it in the way they lived. It wasn’t loud but quiet and gentle. Well,  occasionally it was loud when a couple of them were telling one of their famous jokes.  

I remember when I was new to the Lutheran Congregation and I attended Bible Studies led by
Lorraine, Emily and Grace. I learned more about God and the Bible, but most of all I learned  about kindness and love for others. I saw their dedication to their church in all they did quietly  such as Altar Guild, Women’s groups, Choir, Ushering, Church Council and of course teaching  others about the word.  

I met Gerald when I became the head of our Sunday School and he was one of our teachers.
He taught I think for over twenty years or more. He, with his wit and humor made a difference in the lives of young members in his teaching, and in his leadership of youth groups, taking them  out into nature in the Boundary Waters to teach them about the beauty of creation.  

I met Wilburt when he ushered every Sunday without fail. It wasn’t unusual for him to grab one of
my kids and hold them on his lap while we went up for communion in the days before kids could
go along to be blessed. And he always had a twinkle in his eye and made us feel welcome.  

Donny was a family member. He married my cousin and then after she died, a best friend. I got
to know him in another way. He too was always in church, ushered every Sunday and charmed  people with his wit knowing when you saw him to expect a friendly razzing. 

Each one of these Senior Saints also had jobs outside of their church life and they lived their
faith in the way they treated people in their workplace and on the street. They weren’t different
people when they walked out of that church. You could count on the fact they were who theyrepresented themselves in and out of church.

And each of these people at one time or another served on the church council.

One of the things I liked best was that even if they didn’t always agree with what you did, or how
you viewed something, they would state their point without belittling and making you feel less
than.

These people, who are no longer with us, made a difference quietly in my life as a young adult
and as I aged. As I look around today I don’t know if my generation can live up to those Senior
Saints of the past. We tend to think of making a difference as making a big splash, but not as
one quietly living our lives, making a difference by just being themselves in someones life and
quietly spreading their faith.  

I look at our choir and see the spots some of those Saints used to occupy. I still see them
singing with joy along with the rest of the choir. They occupied those spots with other Senior Saints still alive. The choir is peppered here and there with younger ones, but not many. And I
wonder…in our churches… if anyone will be remembered as these that have gone before us are
remembered, for their kindness, their knowledge, and their dedication to their faith.  

I know I am failing. Am I the only one? Thank you special ones, who shared your lives and your
faith. You are indeed Saints. Grace you will be missed. Thank you for influencing my faith. 

Here Comes The Judge

From the column Something About Nothing in The Albert Lea Tribune and Courier Sentinel the week of March 20, 2017

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. 

There have been occurrences in the past few years in my life that have absolutely taken me down to my knees in prayer. If you do not believe in prayer or God, then please don’t read this column today. I seldom write about my beliefs, but this week with Lent and Easter approaching, I want to share some of my feelings.

After going through all the experiences and thought processes the past few years, I came to the conclusion it would possibly be easier to not care about anyone. In that conclusion, I knew if I chose the route of not letting myself feel emotion for others, I would have missed out on blessings in my life.

I have been affected by illnesses, divorces, accidents, addiction, to name a few. It has touched and hurt those I care about and love. People have let me down by their actions. I have been angry. I have been sad and I have also not been able to put a name to some of my feelings.

Over the years I spent time trying to figure it all out and cope with all the human emotions. Here is what I know in my life. We are all flawed individuals. We all hold secrets about ourselves no one else knows. We all disappoint others, and we all make mistakes that affect others’ lives, including me.

Holding on to anger only makes me an angry person. Only forgiveness frees me from my anger. I can’t judge another because I don’t have that right. It would be like the pot calling the kettle black. I sin, and I can’t say my sin is less than my neighbors.

I love my children, and I have always told them I will love them no matter what. I may not always like or agree with what they do or enable them if I see they are doing something that is causing them or someone else harm, but I will always love them. I hate the sin but love the sinner. That is the way I would like to be treated. And I extend that to my friends.

Perhaps that is why I feel uncomfortable with judgmental behaviors hiding under the guise of Christianity. I know even though I was brought up to know right from wrong, I am not perfect and I don’t feel comfortable when Christians judge one another and do not show another person caring, but judgment in a church society. I feel my judgement does and should come from God because He and only Him knows the entire picture of who I am. God gave us the Ten Commandments to live our lives and he will decide if we live our lives accordingly.

In a society we have laws and rules we also have to live by, and if we break those rules we are held accountable. But in that system something more needs to happen. Our prisons are full of offenders of what may be unforgivable crimes. These offenders may be a threat to our society. Yet, we have mothers who have forgiven their son’s killers. We have store owners who have forgiven their perpetrator’s crimes. They know the power of forgiveness over anger. And their forgiveness changed the lives of those who committed the crimes.

I have talked to friends who visit prisons and hold Bible studies or teach language and writing skills to prisoners who have felt worthless all of their life and were taught nothing but brutality and crime growing up. These volunteers are changing the lives of those who have not had anyone care about them before. It is not judgment but forgiveness that changes lives.

Those who are in prison are training service dogs, and these dogs are teaching the hardhearted to love. The dogs don’t judge, but they teach love.

This Lenten season in our churches we are learning the sacrifice Jesus made for us, all of us who are flawed.

It is hard not to judge. I have been a very judgmental person until I was taken down to my knees with experiences that taught me my judgment makes an enormous statement about who I am. It means if I judge, I don’t see my own sin. And I personally need that Christian place where I can visit, know I am a sinner, know I will be judged by my higher power and not others sitting in the pews with me. We are all in this world together. Let us pray.