While growing up attending church, our children (and perhaps even WE) used to crawl over, hide under, sleep on, and play peek-a-boo with the person behind them on this sanctuary furniture with the strange name … pew.
So where did this strange name originate? A search of the internet revealed this: “Pew” comes from the Middle English word “pewe,” which comes from the Old French “puye” or “puie,” meaning balcony or elevation. (This “elevated” seating was originally reserved for women and men of importance.) This, in turn, came from the Latin “podia,” the plural of “podium.”
Did you get all that? (There will be a quiz.)
In the very beginning of church get-togethers, people didn’t sit at all. It was “standing room only.” The church didn’t use pews for over a thousand years. Then, in the 13th Century, the first seating opportunity came along. It was in the form of backless stone benches. (Ouch!) They were originally placed against the walls and, over time, were placed in the center of the room.
By the 15th Century, the Reformation was happening and the pulpit was introduced as the focal point of the church. It was in the pews that people were to sit and focus on the pulpit and sermon … unless they were small children, of course. Which made me wonder, “when did they invent church nurseries?”
Some of the 17th and 18th century church pews were a raised “box pew” that isolated the users, and had enclosures with doors. An entire family could be given the private space with seats facing each other. This was, perhaps, so that mothers could give the “death stare” to their misbehaving children?
These days, there are churches turning away from pews in favor of more comfortable, theatre-like seating. But we need to resist this movement in favor of those familiar wooden fixtures that, by the way, now have seat padding. Now, isn’t that better?
Pews are a tradition, and that can be a comforting thing. You may occupy one end of a pew while another person occupies the other end. There’s nobody between you, but you a sharing one space, just as you are sharing one God.
You expect to see rows of pews in a church sanctuary – that’s how you grew up. Besides, where would our kids climb, sleep, hide or play “Peek-a-boo?”
Oh, wait. We have nurseries now.