A View from the Pew: Saving Seats

Confession: I hate saving seats. Anywhere. School concerts, sporting events, the movie theater, anywhere that has general admission, first-come first-served seating.

My dislike of seat saving comes from my opinion that if you value your seat location, you will allot the time and effort to be there early enough to get the seat you desire. That ideal is not always possible, and I am forced to admit on occasion that spreading cell phones and jackets and purses across a row of seats is sometimes an unavoidable condition of attending an event with a large group.

This aversion to reserving a seat for members of my party extends to church as well. I’ve not often had to save seats at church because church doesn’t seem to have a shortage of seats these days, but I’ve had a couple of experiences lately that have caused me to re-think my position and consider there may be valid reasons for saving a seat, particularly at church.

Among the legitimate grounds for seat saving at church are special needs such as access to exits or restrooms, acoustics or amplification for the hearing impaired, arm rests to help the elderly or less mobile with standing and sitting, and sight lines for those who can’t see over the people in front of them. Just as none of us would dare park in a space reserved for those with a handicap, allowing someone to save a seat for those who have special needs is common courtesy.

Another valid reason for seat saving occurred to me to while I was recently visiting my parents’ church in Florida during the holidays. We drove separately from my parents and did not attend Sunday school. We arrived in the sanctuary 15 minutes before their Sunday school class dismissed. Fortunately, the pastor was there to greet us and show us to the section where my parents usually sit. This helped us avoid taking someone else’s regular seats and reserve spaces for my parents, who had chosen that row as their typical seat for a variety of good reasons, some of which have been noted above.

Here are some bad reasons to save seats: habitual tardiness, tradition, and hierarchy. If you rely on members of your party to save you seats everywhere you go, it might be worth looking in the mirror and asking yourself why your time is more valuable than everyone else’s.

For those who have traditional seats that require others to save them, please consider that you may not always be able to get those seats if guests or others who aren’t aware of the tradition take them on occasion. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t leave your Bible there during the week to mark your spot. You need to be taking it home and reading it.

The worst of all reasons to save a seat in the sanctuary is showing favoritism, particularly if the best seats go to the wealthiest members or largest contributors. There should be no box seats at church. All churches need financial support, and having generous members helps churches function. But the worship center should be one place where people of differing economic status can co-mingle as brothers and sisters without distinction.

I’m trying to learn to save seats without shame when it’s called for and not pass judgment when I see people savings seats. When it comes to gathering for worship, my strongest desire is that we have a seat for everyone.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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