The front pew isn’t unfamiliar to me.
As a pastor I’m accustomed to being up front, facing the congregation, and looking into the eyes of those gathered for worship. It’s a privilege to see families worshipping together, children holding hymnals proudly singing, couples holding hands, friends whispering secrets, and eyes filled with awe as God’s story is proclaimed. Sometimes, though, there are tired faces, bored eyes, and questioning looks. The fullness of emotions and feelings can be seen during worship.
Now that I’m not serving full time in a congregational setting, I have the privilege to worship with my children. I get to sit with them and look into the eyes of the pastor each week. I get to look forward towards the altar. I get to be surrounded by the singing and praying. Depending on the day or how the morning has gone I could be one of those people whose eyes are full of joy, hope, sadness, boredom, or exhaustion.
The front pew isn’t unfamiliar to me as a pastor, and it’s also not unfamiliar to me as a mom. My toddler daughter leads the way to our seats every Sunday and generally selects the front pew.
Perhaps it’s because she wants to get a front row seat watching her daddy lead worship as the pastor.
Perhaps she likes having the whole pew to herself.
Or perhaps even at a young age she realizes that there’s something mysterious and awe-inspiring about worship and she wants to be as close as she can to that mystery.
In all the months that I’ve been sitting in the front pew I’ve experienced worship differently, too. When I’m in the front with my back to the congregation, I can feel the presence of everyone behind me. I intimately know that I’m not alone, that others have joined me in singing and praying and being a part of this faith community.
From the front pew I watch my daughter turn around and wave to members of the congregation – to her friends, to those who’ve known her since before she was born, and to those she is yet to meet.
From the front pew I watch as the pastor, worship leaders, and musicians lead us in worship. I see their faith, their gifts, their love poured out for God. I see their humanity. I see people coming together to give thanks to God.
From the front pew I watch as people come forward to communion. As a member, and not the pastor, I don’t get to look into everyone’s eyes as they receive communion, but rather, I get to see a body of people coming forward. A body of people joined to Christ through bread and wine. A body of people hungry and in need of a savior. A body of people yearning for community and connection. A body of people receiving grace and forgiveness.
I imagine that no matter where I sit in the church I’d be learning. That’s the gift of being in Christian community. That’s the gift of showing up together week after week. But for now, I’ll be with my daughter and son in the front pew. Being reminded that I’m loved, that I’m human, and that God meets me wherever I am.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. Her website is http://www.kimberlyknowlezeller.com