Pews are more recent in church history, newer than steeples or podiums. Before the rise of the long sermon as the main event of Protestant services, churchgoers were more or less allowed to move around as they pleased. Nowadays, with the exception of some Byzantine and Orthodox sects, most Christian-based churches have pews of some kind. They range from starkly practical and simple, to wildly personalized, to unapologetically luxurious. Let’s take a look at a few unique designs that church pews have undergone throughout the past few centuries to accommodate the people who occupy them.
Because church culture in America began without traditional tithing, Protestants and similar sects usually rented their family’s church pew as means of income for the church. This dropped out of popularity in the early- to mid-twentieth century, but there are some churches today who honor family pew rental papers, and it’s pretty interesting to have historical records of these second-hand church pews. But did you know some places took it a step farther and had families outright buy church pews? The wealthiest of early Protestant Americans would sometimes custom-build elaborate box pews, but perhaps the most interesting is instances in Germany of families’ portraits actually being painted on their pews as signs of ownership. Very few of these antique church pews survive today, but it’s kind of eerie to see old portraits still owning their bench in a way.
Perforated Pew Backs
Southern American summers are hot and sweaty, and churches with a lack of modern air conditioning back in the day suffered for it. A neat trick spotted in some South Carolina antique church pews was perforating simple designs in the backing of the pew to allow for some light ventilation for the stifled backs of the parishioners. Practical and pretty!
Built-In Sound Systems
Clearly a modern amenity, some large “super-churches” custom built their pews to accommodate the installation of small speakers allowing churchgoers to better hear sermons coming from the distant front podium. Also useful for elderly or hard of hearing members of the church.
Since recent decades have introduced convincing studies saying that parishioners pay better attention in church when they’re comfortable, many church leaders have adopted ‘comfier’ alternatives to traditional wooden bench seating. This could include little touches like cup holders, or huge seating overhauls like leather recliners. Obviously, this is a minority of churches, but who knows how far churches could move towards theater-style seating in the future. Comfort is not a new church concept; early family box pews often had cozy touches like small fireplaces to keep occupants warm and focused on the church leaders’ teachings.
What do you and your flock believe? Are simple wooden benches the most honest expression of God-fearing attention, or is a little comfort okay to establish churches as a welcoming community gathering place?
Maybe you have some beautiful historical examples of these antique church pews in your own space, or maybe you’d like to emulate some old or modern aspects when you update your congregation’s seating. Whether you need restoration or custom inspiration, trust Kivett’s Fine Church Furniture to take on your project with pride.