Saturday, 1 December 2012

Church Seating Strategy - Know the Terrain

Dear Readers, I have written in the past about the different ways in which churches have laid out their seating.

But I am aware that this merely gives you academic information - neutral and mostly impersonal. Now, Eileen has once again been encouraging me to develop my inter-personal skills. To be exact, she said,
"Burton, you're a personality-free zone. You're a charmless slug with all the empathy of a slug."

So I have tried to take people's personalities into account a little, in developing the seating plan thesis and focusing not on the seats - but on the people that sit in them.

It is clear to me that in choosing where in church to sit, you need to understand the terrain. Let us take as an example what we might call the "Chapel Configuration". The building fills up from a door at the back:

Chapel Configuration
It is pretty clear that seated at "A" is a foolish person. Although they think they're safely back from the preacher, they are right next to the door. This means that people wanting to sit right in the back corner will tread on their feet. Worse, they will receive detailed attention from the people taking the collection. Make no mistake - sitting at "A" adds 104% to the average amount given. And on top of all that, you're running the risk of a draft from the foyer.

Position "B" is, if anything, even sillier. You may think sitting on the front row shows keenness. But you're right in the ministerial firing line. If the minister is stuck for an illustrative tale, or goes a bit "off-piste" on the sermon, you may find episodes from your life suddenly being resurrected in front of - oh, seven or even eight other people.

Position "C" is clever, but risky. You're taking the chance that the minister doesn't have fantastic peripheral vision. If he is old enough to have served in the Burmese jungle, there is a chance that if you move slightly, he will mistake you for a sniper, and throw that four-stone Church Bible at you.

Position "D" is always a safe bet. You can see what's going on, and there is no danger of a surprise attack. But if you have any real desire to hear anything you probably need to sit at Position "E" - my personal favourite. You have the defence of a side-wall, you can hear the sermon, but the average minister is too short-sighted to recognise you at this distance. And you are far enough away from the aisle that you could put nothing at all in the collection without anyone knowing.

So much for the "Chapel Configuration". But what about if you are in an old-fashioned Anglican Church? Here, the opportunities for cover are much greater, due to the socking great pillars about the place. There are often stray eagle-shaped lecterns, massive family monuments and even the odd chorister to hide behind if need be.
The configuration below is based on a church with a door in the "South" wall. For churches where people come in from the "North", reverse all directions. If you've come in by abseiling down the wall, you've probably had the lead nicked again.

Church of England Configuration
So here, "A" is a fantastic position. You have plenty of cover, but still have sight-lines to the minister, and to the door. If anyone you want to avoid comes in, you can simply duck back behind the pillar.

"B" combines being too near the front, with no view whatsoever. Best suited to people with mild hearing difficulties and unattractive clergy.

"C" is, once again, at real danger from the people taking collections. You're also too near the Church Wardens, should you fancy starting something.

"D" - is the perfect place for a frost-resistant extrovert, whose only interest in life is grabbing people as they come in and giving them irrelevant gossip and advice. While "E" is very clever. Anybody entering the church is going to walk straight past "D", then tuck in somewhere safe towards the middle - not take a sharp left and come to invade E's personal space. 

Don't be suicidal and go for "F". Sure, you've got a good view and your own chair. But the organist is going to be livid.

Finally, let's move to the "Pseudo-new-age" or "Beaker" fashion.

No place to hide
The whole ethos of "in the round" is that you can't get away. Under the pretence that "we're all equal and part of God's family," you will be forced to make eye contact, and under severe threat of having to hold hands during the blessing at the end.

For the average male accountant, there is only one decent strategy in these circumstances. You will have to hide under the Worship Focus Table. You may suffer from cramp, you will not be able to join in the singing and responses, and you will see very little of what goes on.

But at least you won't have to make eye-contact.

1 comment :

  1. I know of one church where they sneakily put the pulpit on the congregations' side of one of the pillars, so the preacher can keep a closer eye on the congregation, and vice versa.

    This was somewhat mitigated by making the pews directly adjacent to the pulpit the unofficial but inevitable seats for family members of the clergy, so everyone else could sit it back as usual.


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