"Somebody has been sitting in my chair, and has sat the bottom through!" said the Little Wee Bear in his little wee voice.
It seems some churchgoers - United Methodists not excluded - are as possessive of their "family pew" as the unfortunate baby bear in the fairy tale. They arrive for Sunday worship only to discover "someone is sitting in their pew."
Alas! Crisis! What to do?
Have you ever been asked to move because you sat in someone's family pew?
We posed that question on the United Methodist News Service Facebook page and received some interesting responses.
Three came from clergy families.
Priceless expression on her face
"On the first Sunday of my first full-time appointment," wrote the Rev. Judy Powell Sibley, "my husband was asked to move by the wife of the administrative council chair. When I introduced him to the congregation, the expression on her face was priceless!" Today Sibley is retired from the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference.
Joyce Carrasco's spouse is the Rev. Oscar Carrasco, Elgin District superintendent in the Northern Illinois Conference. She recalled a Sunday years ago when she and her daughter "sat down cautiously in a center pew" on her husband's first week at a new appointment.
"In audible voices from behind us came, 'She doesn't know that they are sitting in the pew that belongs to so-and-so family. She'll find out soon enough and not sit there again.' And we didn't. We moved to the back pew and enjoyed that spot for six years." Today Carrasco is a member of Epworth United Methodist Church, Elgin, Ill.
"Before I was appointed," said the Rev. Douglas L. Amis, "my wife and I would intentionally take someone else's seats to push the comfort zone (and cause) them to move." Eventually, because so many worshippers were not in their usual places, "the pastor commented that it was hard to tell who wasn't there!" Today Amis serves Miller United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.
A lasting impression
How to say 'Welcome!' - and mean it
- Display visible, clear and concise signs that a first-time visitor can easily understand and follow.
- Station trained greeters at all building entrances, not just the sanctuary.
- Train ushers to be your worship "hosts" (not gatekeepers).
- Recognize that the congregation is even more influential than the greeters and ushers in creating a welcoming climate. Prepare church members for their role.
- Offer cues and aids during worship. Never assume people know what you know.
- Invite people to stay for social time and announce where to find the coffee.
- Remember to say "thank you for coming" and "we hope to see you again."
To learn more about developing a welcoming ministry in your congregation, visit umcom.org/welcoming.
Being asked to move can make a lasting impression, according to Brenda Mayberry of Manhattan, Kan. When she was a child visiting a church with her parents, someone asked them to vacate a pew.
"My mom glared back at them," she said. Her dad retorted that when the usual occupants of the pew arrived, they could ask them to move, but until then, they were staying. "The family did come and just sat beside us. Mom said we kids played in the pews just fine."
Ruie Whitecotton, Romulus, Mich., remembers attending a new church when her husband was stationed in Charleston, S.C. "The first day, we had to move three times," she said.
Angela Stetar Cox of Greensboro, N.C., had a similar experience. "We were visiting this church for the first time. We were asked to move because we were in someone else's seat. (We) never went back."
Rob Turk has "accidentally sat in someone's 'spot.'" But the results can be positive, he said.
"It usually can be a conversation starter and a chance to meet a new friend - or you can get your dander up in a wad and miss out on a chance. But if a church is about being welcoming and that it's an honor to have a guest in one's special 'spot,' the miracles can really happen."
'Jesus has space for everyone!'
Several respondents seemed surprised such incidents occur.
"I have &ellipsis; never had anything like this happen," declared Linda Wiseheart Lofton, who describes herself as "an aging member" of Broadway United Methodist Church, Paducah, Ky.
Steve Novy goes to another friendly church - Aldersgate, Wheaton, Ill. - where "we've saved some seats for you and yours."
"That is so funny," added Karen Allanach of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Urbana, Md. "Jesus has space for everyone!"
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.