Worshipers are famous for hugging the back seats of the church Sanctuary. Recently, I was the guest minister at a church out of state and was interested in the fact that for the first two evening services, the pastor of the congregation urged his “back seat” members to move forward. By the close of the series of meetings, I was surprised and delighted to see that members had begun to feel comfortable worshiping at the front of the Sanctuary.
If I were an artist, it might be intriguing to develop a cartoon on the kind of “pew-birds” we should avoid becoming in a church or synagogue.
The first specimen of an “ill-mannered” church attender may be called the Arctic Tern. He or she may be a loyal member, sometimes an official or an usher.
This person seems to thrive in a frigid atmosphere. Indeed, he helps to create a kind of deep freeze of the emotions which even a pleasant smile or friendly greeting cannot thaw out.
An attitude of reverence need not stifle friendliness. Nor do we have to be a back slapping too-hearty professional greeter to convey a genuine welcome.
If the first “pew-bird” is labeled the Arctic Tern type – the frigid bird – Exhibit B in poor church manners may be called the Dour-faced Rigid Pew-Sitter. This person is one who considers his particular seat in the pew his fox-hole from which he will be dislodged only by superior numbers! Their favorite hymn is “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Temper mentally related to this rigid type is the Rear Guard Soldier of the Lord. He or she will sit only at the back of the church sanctuary. Perhaps she suffers from claustrophobia and wants to be as near the exit as possible. If so, we will pass no judgment on her, but hope that she may receive therapeutic help.
Or, perish the thought, in case the worship service goes a few minutes past noon, she wants to be in a position to make a quick get-away – a dash for the door, without having to shake hands or exchange greetings with anyone. Come high noon, she has one objective – her parked car, Sunday dinner, or both.
Blessed is the person who can wait as patiently in church five or ten minutes over the hour as she would at a ball game or a second feature at a movie!
Next on the list of bad-mannered children of God is the Human Yak. The human creature designated Yak is one who gives a running commentary on the various parts of the service: on the anthem, on the unfamiliar hymns, the sermon, then on the temperature, the acoustics, and the “characters” in other pews!
Often this person is very fidgety, and can on occasion be heard to describe the events at a Saturday evening social event or the ingredients for a Sunday lunch.
Are there no good-mannered church attendees? Indeed there are; and they constitute the large majority.
These are the loyal, reverent, and friendly souls who with God’s help, keep our churches and synagogues alive, vital, and thrilling in their worship and service.
Their example is captured by the unknown versifier who wrote these “Ten Commandments For Worshipers”:
1. Thou Shalt Not Come to Service Late, Nor for the Amen Refuse to Wait.
2. When Speaks the Organ’s Sweet Refrain, Thy Noisy Tongue Thy Shall Restrain.
3. But When the Hymns are Sounded Out, Thou Shalt Lift Thy Voice and Shout.
4. And When the Anthem Thou Shalt Hear, Thy Sticky Throat Thou Shalt Not Clear.
5. The End-Most Seat, Thou Shalt Leave Free, For More Must Share the Pew with Thee.
6. The Offering Plate Thou Shalt Not Fear, But Give Thine Uttermost with Due Cheer.
7. Thou Shalt the Minister Give Heed, Nor Blame Him When Thou Art Disagreed.
8. Unto Thy Neighbor Thou Shalt Bend and, if a Stranger, Make a Friend.
9. Thou Shalt Be in Every Way Kind, Compassionate, and of Tender Mind.
10. And So, By All Thy Spirit is Grace, Thou Shalt Show God is in This Place.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.