In unexpected places, a pew is still a pew
You’ve seen them on front porches, township buildings, public libraries, university hallways and maybe even in the foyer of a budget-minded restaurant. They often wear a ding or a scratch in their ripe old age from the Big Move. Some have a few blisters from recent neglect, or, as we imagine their past, they’ve had hard, cold, and lonely years not so long ago.
Pews relocated from churches can seem like the humane society dog that has been in the shelter far too long and now leans against the wall furthest from her pen door. These handcrafted pieces from mainline American history seem misplaced, forlorn, and even morose.
Yes, a church pew out of church can seem sad.
I’m not the only one who has noticed this. If you’ve ever walked into an antique shop, estate auction, bargain basement or indoor yard sale, you have overheard someone cooing over a well-weathered table, chair or dresser. “Aww, this?” They speak tenderly. “This just needs a little love.”
Church pews still need love. More specifically, they still do what they were built to do, and that is point us (or place us) to higher love.
I was sitting on a church pew against a wall in a family-owned rec center recently. This pew, which was parked right beside the basketball/volleyball court, came with its faded padded cushion that, if not original to the long piece with its slightly curved wooden back, was at least fifty-years-old.
Two of us were seated on this pew. The conversation was easy, free-flowing and relaxed. In the gentle lulls of our talking, I found myself thinking about this pew’s former life. It was easy for me to reconstruct some of the conversations that happened on this pew when it was new and its church was bustling.
Of course, there were the silver-haired ladies in their Sunday best who clustered right where I was on this pew all those years ago. In the era of small business farming, entire families crammed bumper to bumper here, too. High school friends who could barely stand because the sudden loss of their classmate was too much to experience also took seats where I was parked courtside, along with the extended family who made it to the memorial service of the soldier who never made it home from his tour overseas. The neighbors of the girl down the street who married also sat right where I was.
As volleyballs were bouncing in front of me, I thought about all of the people who heard the Words of God during those baptisms of those blessed babies and those teenage confirmands, those who heard the eulogies and stood to sing hymns about America on our national holidays.
We’ve heard the saying, “If these walls could talk…” Maybe when we have the opportunity to sit on a pew no longer in a sanctuary, we could listen to what message the pew will help us find.
I cannot substantiate this theologically or scripturally, but hold in my heart that a pew, which is a sacred seat in a sacred house, remains sacred no matter where it is. Something transformative can happen when we sit reverently like those who have taken these same seats ahead of us.
Settle down on a pew when you find one, even if in the moment you don’t think you have time to do so. You do have time. Let the pew do what it is designed to do—provide you with needed, intimate, and holy time with God.