The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Excuse me, that's my seat'

"Excuse me, that's my seat, can you move over?" It's not the most welcoming way to be invited into a new worship space. Yet those words have been spoken in church. I know we joke about how we are creatures of habit and often sit in the same area, but to ask someone to move?

Another Sunday, I greeted two regular worshipers. "We had to come early this week because other people were in our seat last week," one said.

"Did you ask them to move?" I asked, holding my breath.

"Of course not, but we did come early this week."

Why does this happen? Is it because we know what we like? The right view, close to a speaker, near a fan, far from an air-conditioning vent. Comfort is great, but can it become a hindrance?

When I encouraged a non-churchgoing friend to attend worship, she responded: "Well, I fear I'll sit in someone's seat." The visitor was showing empathy for the regular worshiper's comfort. Now that blew me away. I never thought of it that way.

Jesus and his disciples never really had a chance to get comfortable. They were always on the move and in a new place. Maybe our church today has become too comfortable. Is that why so many don't attend worship? Is it that people don't know how to get into the club? Or they don't want to be part of a club and therefore worship on their own? Is the church seen as an institution, a building and Sunday morning worship — instead of church also existing as a mystical communion and servant?

It's undeniable that our comfortable living has impacted society's understanding of ecclesiology. Yet Scripture calls us to sell everything and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19:21); to take up the cross and follow (Matthew 10:38); and to continue to forgive and love in a broken world. This isn't easy or comfortable. But standing at the foot of the cross should shake the very foundation of our life.

In Luke 11:43, we hear: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor (of comfort) in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces." Has our comfort led us to a place where we again act as Pharisees, keepers of the law, instead of livers of God's uniting, life-giving word?

What would Paul write today to the church of God in this new world? Are we still the original intended ecclesia (assembly)? Is God's Spirit still at work in the church? Of course, the answer is yes — the church is still a living entity. Yet for some reason a non-churchgoer understands a Christian's focus to be where we sit during worship — with the result that this person fears joining in the mystical communion because it might be your seat.

Maybe it's time for this church to stand at the foot of the cross, to stand at the empty tomb and show this world our life-giving God — not the beauty of our seat. How do you feel about where you sit? With whom will you share your seat?


Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 12:08 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/27/2010

Ha! This isn't just a church issue. It's an issue that happens anytime that a group of people regularly get together in a certain place. A classroom, a restaurant...even a parking lot. Yes, a parking lot. I know that I always tend to park in the same spot when I go grocery shopping or to the mall simply so I know where to find my car when I come out.

We've been told by church "experts" that if we want our kids to be engaged in the service and understand what's going on, that we should sit near the front, so they can see everything. Others, who have reason to make a quick and unobtrusive exit, tend to sit in the back. And let's not forget the choir members, they have their own seats too.

And sometimes "our" seats were the only ones left at the time, and became "ours" over the years. 

Of course we all have our favorite, or customary, seats. Habit is good when it means that we don't have to waste too many brain cells deciding "Where shall I sit today?" But that shouldn't  preclude us from looking for another seat when someone's in "our spot." Nor should it prevent us from visiting another church because we might take the spot of some regular. If I worried about other people's seats, I'd never visit other churches.

Barbara Shafarzek

Barbara Shafarzek

Posted at 3:48 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/27/2010

I was recently sent the following and thought it appropriate to this article:  One day a man went to visit a church, he got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, "I always park there! You took my place!" The visitor went inside for Sunday School, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated, "That's my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday School, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, "That's where I always sit! You took my place!" The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still he said nothing. Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place."

Maybe we should all think more closely about who took our place.


Shirley Jamesom

Shirley Jamesom

Posted at 5:50 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/27/2010

 I don't think I would mind if someone took my seat because there's usually an empty one in front, along side, directly behind and across the aisle.  It's a sad state of affairs to see so many empty pews, but that's a fact.  So, please, take my seat!



Posted at 1:04 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/28/2010

How about once a month having a "seat upset" so that everyone goes to a different place.   We dare not be like so many cattle going to their stanchons.    Surprised

Patty A.

Patty A.

Posted at 11:21 am (U.S. Eastern) 7/31/2010

Years ago, in the congregation where I grew up, we were taught not to sit in the back four rows on the left side of the nave--those seats belonged to the "So-and-So family."  They had even been known to ask people to move.  Today, membership has declined to about 25! 

As a Music Director, I've always told prospective choir members, "Join the choir.  Have a reserved seat on Christmas and Easter!"

Good idea--have a seat exchange once a month; get a new perspective!



Posted at 4:54 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/31/2010

In the last four congreagations we've been members of, "my seat" has been a joke to most.  Those that maybe wanted to "reserve" their pew or chair were at least quiet about it.  We're all creatures of habit, but in most cases, in most cases that's as far as it goes.

At our previous church in Minnesota, we went from two services to one in the summer (after all, that is lake and fishing country).  The first Sunday of the new schedule, the senior Pastor would look around the church before welcoming the congreagtaion, smile, and say how much fun it was watching people "scrambling" for an alternate seat to "their" seat.  Most if not all laughed and took it in good humor.

Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 12:14 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/8/2010

This morning we went to our "other" church, the one closer to our home that we go to in the summer and when there are scheduling conflicts. There, we usually sit front and center in the first row.

But this morning there was someone else in "our seat." The funny thing was that this person and his family were "regulars," who had been displaced from "their seats" by visitors. So everyone just shifted over.

It was great that we got shifted over though, because from my new seat I got to get a close look at their new projection system, and offer a few suggestions. 

Hey, we may be creatures of habit, but we're at least flexible creatures of habit. 

Nia Frei

Nia Frei

Posted at 3:26 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/13/2010

I love to sit in a new place every Sunday! It's fun to get a different perspective on worship and make friends with other congregants. However, there are certain people whom I cannot sit by because we laugh too much during church! 

Bob Frei

Bob Frei

Posted at 8:46 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/13/2010

I tend to sit in the same seat every sunday . . . but then, I am the organist.

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February issue


Embracing diversity