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Swapping pews for chairs stirs controversy

Swapping pews for chairs stirs controversy

The Wall Street Journal gets to the bottom of the controversy that often ensues when churches swap pews for chairs in this pun-filled piece:

Pews have been part of the Western world’s religious landscape for centuries, but now a growing number of churches in the U.S. and U.K. are opting for chairs, sometimes chairs equipped with kneelers.

At bottom: churches want to trim remodeling costs, maximize space flexibility with stackable seating, or create a more approachable atmosphere to draw in unchurched young people.

“Lots of people shy away from a formal church setting. It makes them very nervous,” says the Rev. Samuel LaCombe , of the Windham church, who is planning to move the new chairs aside to use the sanctuary for community suppers. “Now, what’s so scary about beans and hot dogs and yeast rolls? Not much.”

The dispute is the latest sticking point between traditionalists and those who believe old-guard churches have to modernize to broaden their appeal. Church Executive Magazine last year called it “Chairs vs. Pews.” A blog on Religious Product News dubbed it “the great pew debate.”

“I’ve had a couple of cases where it got ugly,” says Paul Lodholz , a principal with Ziegler Cooper Architects, a Houston church-design company.

What are your thoughts on pews versus chairs?


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Ceryle Alcyon

And as for Mr. Kraut’s observation, I think it’s much more telling that whether or not to replace pews with chairs is a far more controversial matter to Episcopalians than whether homophobia is a sin. All things considered, I’d call that a very good sign.

Ceryle Alcyon

It has just occurred to me that the last three churches of which I’ve been a member all used chairs (padded, linking chairs with compartments for hymn and prayerbooks on their backs or in little wooden racks between them). They are all unashamedly high church, but they are also very practical congregations with an eye toward versatility.

My admittedly irrational anxiety with regard to change of any sort, no matter how slight, is triggered by memories of the UCC in which I grew up. It was taken over by a small group of Pentecostals who had decided that the denomination was no longer Christian enough for their liking. As the church became more and more evangelical in worship style, theology, and, finally, politics, my parents protested and my once-active family was asked to leave. I’ve come to unconsciously associate gradual changes of any sort with a general move toward dumbing down the church and moving it in a political and moral direction that lacks compassion, reason, or generosity of spirit , and that’s a hard association to break for me.

Incidentally, however, that church, which has a praise band now instead of a choir and sings hideous little ditties of strung-together evangelical cliches instead of good old Congregational hymns, still has its original pews.

barbara snyder

Jonah: if you notice, comments on this thread were solicited explicitly.

I suppose we could have ignored that, though, and have had this thread be empty of comments, too….

Peter Pearson

Hold on Mr. Kraut, where exactly did you just make a comment as well?


I think it is a telling statement on the state of our church that a story on chairs gets 12 comments and the next story on Dean Hall and other Episcopal leader’s prophetic statements get no comments. It’s good to see where people’s priorities lay. No wonder we’re in trouble!

Jonah Kraut

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