Marjorie and the Right Church, Wrong Pew

in #creativity9 months ago

Some old sayings make more sense when there’s context.


This morning I tuned into a group of people brainstorming on Discord. Discord’s a piece of chat software used to form rooms on a server. This one is for Uptrennd University (UU), a training program for users on the Uptrennd blogging platform.

The Chancellor of UU had challenged one member to complete five tasks to win a prize. Task three was underway She’d provided him with a passage with several blanks, fill in the blanks. Enlisting people in the server to help was okay but, their errors became his errors.

She’d given three of us the set of correct answers. If he asked us, we could give him two of the answers. Three people out of a few hundred, a bit of a needle in a haystack. Nudging without pointing allowed.

Brainstorming the Puzzle Solution

She’d given him the passage yesterday, and the deadline is later today. I observed them working yesterday for a bit. This morning I sat down with my coffee and tuned in to see their progress Being one of the three, I knew they weren’t far away.

One word needed was in the wrong place. The misplaced word created a non-existent item (generosity rainbow). Where it belonged described an act being talked about (giving). I was amused watching them work together yet separate.

Some one asked what a “generosity rainbow” was? Someone else talked about needing a word meaning “giving”. Took a few nudges before they made the connection. “Generosity” moved to the giving paragraph.
Some diving into the Chancellor’s posts on Uptrennd yielded the correct solution for the rainbow.

Right church, wrong pew? How?

“Right church, wrong pew” came to mind from the chat. A phrase often used in my parents’ home. Used to say I was close to a solution, but not quite. I understood what it said, but never the use.

I was raised in a churchgoing family. We attended Sunday School followed by church every Sunday. Being in the wrong pew in a church was something I couldn’t fathom. There weren’t any wrong pews as long as you were in a pew and listening.

Meeting the Church Marjories

People had favourite pews. One lady, Marjorie, sat in a particular pew every week. The ushers avoided anyone else sitting in that pew. Her husband was the local bank manager, they were generous donors. Money talks, even at church. No coincidence to her preferred pew being close to the front of the sanctuary.

When I attended church as an adult, I preferred to arrive early, sit at the back. Over the years I saw more than a few Marjories from the back pew. Almost all of them oblivious to their hypocrisy on full display with their assumed piety.

I became incensed at one of them. One couple had been trying for years to have a child. Finally, blessed with a full-term pregnancy, twins. They were over the moon with joy, as was their church family.

Being a small church family, we didn’t have a nursery or Sunday School. Children often remained in church for the whole service. There were benefits. Like motivating the preacher to keep sermons to the point and not getting long winded.

The couple brought the twins to church. They’d their infant seats on the pew between them, farthest from the pulpit. If one youngster fussed, mom or dad would pick the child up and walk to calm the child.

It was rare for the fussing to last any more than a minute. Remembering my sister as a baby and my various nieces and nephews. I thought these infants were rather quiet. Our resident Marjorie didn’t think so.

She took it upon herself one Sunday morning to not ask or suggest, but to direct the couple to sit at the back of the church to not disturb worship. They complied. They moved so far back; they went out the door and never returned.

When the subject came up at a church meeting, I spoke up. “Suffer the little church to come unto me.” I quoted to her and then asked, “Did you really have to take that literally and put your worship above theirs?” She flushed and sputtered a bit. Others spoke up.

We made efforts to encourage the couple to return, to no avail. They’d struggled so long to have children. Instead of rejoicing with them, they’d been deeply hurt. Our Marjorie may have been generous with her money, her kindness was the greater need.

All my observations from the back pew never answered how about the wrong pew. I could argue the couple had been in the right church and the wrong pew. I could also argue they were in the wrong church.

Holy hospitality


Years later, I was one of the parish wardens. The incident motivated me to convince the parish to create a space at the back of the sanctuary. We called it the ‘holy hospitality’ area.
We stocked it with a table, quiet toys and activities for children to play with during the service. Also, a rocking chair for a parent to calm a child, while still being part of the service. Or to sit in while monitoring the youngsters.

I made a point of sitting in the pew in front of the area. If a parishioner complained about sound coming from the back corner my response was, “That’s odd. I sit right in front of the area. Never heard a thing.”

We learned while children’s hands were busy, their ears were still working. Parents started hearing the children tell them about what they heard from the pulpit.

Even watching Marjories didn’t answer my why.

I had occasion to visit our sister parish. Being a small country church, we shared the cost of our parish priest with a nearby church.

Once a year the sister parish held a Decoration Sunday. A brief ceremony in the cemetery behind their church, families would place flowers on the graves of loved ones and then a social time. Our services would be joint on that day.

Finding the wrong pew

I arrived early and settled at the back of the sanctuary. As I perused the order of service a shadow fell across it. I looked up into the faces of an unhappy couple. He and his wife informed me I had their pew. At first I thought they were pulling my leg. I laughed and pointed to another pew. That one’s empty, I told them. They stood their ground and insisted I was moving.

Angry and embarrassed, I almost left. I decided my desire to be at the service was stronger than their rudeness.

The answer to why the wrong pew

Later during coffee hour, I made my acquaintance with one of the older parishioners. We had a very pleasant chat. Eventually she brought up the couple and quietly apologized for their behaviour. I laughed and said it wasn’t her behaviour that needed apology, but thank you.

She told me the couple were clinging to an old tradition. Many years ago, church parishioners paid for pews. The pews they sat in were a direct correlation to the level of givings to the church.

Now, I was puzzled. I asked her if that meant someone paying to sit at the back would be the poorer members of the parish?

“Yes,” she said, “the current generation of that family are financially comfortable. They like to put on airs and demand the family pew.” I shook my head.

Apparently, there’s Marjories in the back pews and the front ones. The penny dropped on “Right church, wrong pew”. It referred to the practice of paying for pews. Thus you could be in the wrong pew, and I was.

I’m grateful. The following week, I was in the right church.

IMAGES by Bob Owen, used with permission


I was lucky. My Mom sang in the choir so she always had a seat and if the church got too crowded we could sit up there if Dad and I left 'early' for the church.

My Dad always left 5 minutes before church started. It was a 2-minute drive to church. He had a lead foot. lol

a lot of the time the church back then was filled and Dad and I would stand along the wall with others that came late. From my Dad, I learned it didn't matter where you were sitting in church. During the service, my Dad, in his suit, would kneel on the hard floor and think nothing of it.

The church was to pray. It was not a place to judge. I saw him give up seats to women and families without blinking an eye. He never complained. He was there for the service and to pray.

I was lucky to learn the true meaning of 'going to church' from him. A thing I am thankful for to this day.

Great to see your post!!!!

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I've observed a few churches across a few denominations over the years. Some are more 'traditional' than others. The church I was raised in was entirely German speakers that had migrated from Russia before the Revolution there. They essentially went to the same place EVERY SUNDAY. It wasn't about 'pay for', it had something to do with clans that I never quite figured out.

I married into the Episcopal Church, and they seemed to have preferences but no big stake in where they sat. Extended families tended to sit together. My MIL (and hence the rest of the extended family) sat together but she was always on the outside seat in the outside aisle. There was a reason for that: She was an ordained lay person that helped with the sacrament and had to be able to get in and out.

I spent 10 years or so in a Presbyterian Church that had some of the (mostly older) parishioners that sat in 'their' place. There were two services per Sunday in that church and there would always be conflicts on the couple times per year that they had joint services. It was pretty funny how deep habits could run.

Which has utterly nothing to do with the post you wrote except for some pleasant memories on my part. Thank you for indulging them.