The view from the new pew

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"When God wants mere mortals to get a move on, he isn't big on lead time." Photo: Hurst Photo/Shutterstock

Apparently, the vibrations from the street outside have been less than good for my old church. Thanks to heavier and heavier trucks travelling faster and harder on a road better suited to horse-and-buggy than tractor-and-trailer, combined with the unrelenting attractional power of gravity—seeking oneness between ceiling and floor—we now have a giant plaster bubble that threatens to burst open and rain chunks on unsuspecting worshippers below.

When will it ultimately fail and fall? We don’t know. The element of surprise is on the plaster’s side. As a result, the churchwardens have roped off my former pew—among the handful that are most threatened—with yellow police tape.

It’s sobering to see a place as deeply personal as one’s church pew bound by the word “CAUTION.” It reads like a message from God. But what on earth is he warning me about?

Well, for starters, he is telling me it is time to make a move. After 14 years of faithful occupation, I have been forced to do the unthinkable and find a new view from a new pew.

Unfortunately, when God wants mere mortals to get a move on, he isn’t big on lead time. Suddenly, one Sunday, I was welcomed by the strange sight of pew-as-crime-scene. The split-second decision that followed about where to go next was the Anglican church equivalent of a Rorschach test.

Faced with the perfect bilateral symmetry of my church’s floor plan, I made the seismic shift across the aisle from starboard to port. On the autopilot so revelatory of my underlying emotional state, I fought for the front. From a few feet away I can now stare at the splotch of labouring, but ultimately doomed, plaster above my former place in God’s house. It strikes me as a mirror image of the bulging cracks in my own character, some of which have been formed in this very church.

Thanks to this congregation, and the obedience it has demanded, I have increasingly become a creature of habits both good and bad.

On the upside, I’m a better wife, a more devoted mother and a more dependable friend. My mind is more disciplined than it once was, more likely to put principles before personalities. Choices are ruled less by emotions alone and more by faith in the path, however difficult and narrow, upon which God has placed me.

On the downside, I have become increasingly judgmental of the world around me and much too reliant on creature comforts to support my delusions of permanence and position in the world.

I could have moved a few rows aft, just clear of the ceiling calamity, but my neediness for a front-row seat with an unfettered view would have none of it. How quickly the ink blot pew test revealed my aversion to losing ground and being stuck at the back.

To be healthy, wealthy and wise are good prayers but, once granted, these gifts can lead to the ugliest sin of all: spiritual pride. That’s probably worthy of a little wake-up call from above.

Day by day, week by week, from my spot at the kitchen table to my spot on the couch, to my spot in the grocery store parking lot, to my spot in church, I have become as immovable as a piece of furniture: as utterly and completely nailed to the floor as a church pew.

“We do things a little differently, over here,” said my new pew-mate on the morning I made the fateful crossing to parts unknown. He was only half-joking. Over the years I’ve noticed a little more solemnity on his side of the church. A former sexton and churchwarden, he probably expects me and my 11-year-old son to behave: no more giggling and whispering during the announcements.

I quickly began to second-guess my second-choice pew before I’d even sat down—struggling to understand the pall of permanence already cast upon it.

This is an unprecedented opportunity. I could shop around for a new pew; choose a different spot every Sunday, like a dog circling for the next most perfect place to curl up and chill out. But I would never do that. It would make other parishioners anxious and uncomfortable, wondering, Why can’t she find a new spot and just stay put?

Maybe God might be calling our entire parish community to move around a little: those who are being shaken might use this occasion to shake themselves up a bit. Perhaps the cautionary note of a ceiling collapse is meant for all of us?

My husband thinks it will be a very long time before we’re able to move back to our old pew. He fears half the ceiling will have to be chipped away until the weak spot has been rooted out. New plaster at that height needs a specialist,and good help is hard to find.

For the moment, we may need to huddle together, withstanding as best we can the upsetting vibrations from the street, unless and until a plaster storm forces us out into it. Perhaps the element of surprise is on God’s side, after all?

Michelle Hauser is an award-winning freelance columnist and freelance writer. Her work includes contributions to The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Kingston Whig-Standard and numerous other publications. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at St. Mary Magdalene. She can be reached at mhauser@hotmail.ca.

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Michelle Hauser
Michelle Hauser is an award-winning freelance columnist and freelance writer. Her work includes contributions to The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Kingston Whig-Standard and numerous other publications. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at St. Mary Magdalene. She can be reached at mhauser@hotmail.ca

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Michelle:

    Loved your article. We are part of a rural Anglican church which fortunately has bucked the too normal trend of waning attendance. However our early Sunday service at one time had a fairly sparse number, dotted all over the pews. Our new Rector suggested to them that given the dispersion it might be advantageous to all sit on one side, from then on he encouraged them all to sit on an alternate side each Sunday. Three years later they are still doing this though the numbers now are totally filling one side and on occasion they have spilled over to the other.

    David
    [Lay Reader, Sexton and past Warden]

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