Make room in your pew

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | November 2, 2016

Are you one of the ‘Aisle People’ ?

A letter to the editor in another diocesan newspaper caught my attention last week. It was on a topic I muse about nearly every weekend at Mass: people in the pews. More specifically, people sitting at the ends of the pews.

Here is what the letter writer says: “The AP (Aisle People) covet the seats at the end of the pew regardless of the emptiness within. … The AP make up approximately 30 percent of attendees and I am not sure they realize the angst they cause in other parishioners.”

Does this resonate with you?

It’s an unwritten rule, it seems, that if you’re early for church you get to claim your seat. Usually that’s at the end of a pew. But what happens when other folks, who sometimes arrive after the processional, arrive? Let our letter writer tell the story:

“Everyone who attends Mass … has no doubt noticed that the late arrivals will ‘probe the line’ looking for a charitable aisle person to allow them to enter the pew. It disgusts me to see how many AP stare straight ahead, ignoring the petitioner’s tacit plea to access the vacancies within.”

The writer’s words may be a bit extreme, but it’s safe to say we’ve all witnessed this occurrence. Aggie Catholic, a popular Catholic blog hosted by the campus ministry team at Texas A & M, even included this subject in its post, “Mass Etiquette: 20 Things to Do and Not Do in Mass.”

“Don’t sit on the edge of the pew if you sit down before others,” the blog post states. “Rather, sit in the middle so others don’t have to climb over you.” It also suggests that men be gentlemen and give up their seats to women, the elderly or disabled.

Some Mass-goers have good reasons to sit near the aisle. They might have a role in the liturgy, such as lector. They might also have a health condition that requires a quick and easy exit from church.

But for the rest of us, can we find ways to be more welcoming? If we are determined to keep that seat by the aisle, at least be courteous to others. Stand or exit your pew and allow them to easily take a seat. Better yet, make it your penance for pew greed by sliding to the middle on occasion.

What can parishes do to make their members more aware of the situation? It begins with hospitality. If the role of all baptized Christians is to make others feel welcome in the house of the Lord, shouldn’t it start by welcoming them into our pews? If not, our pew parochialism may resolve itself as people who feel unwelcome at Mass simply stop attending.

A blurb in the parish bulletin can remind people to make room for others. Ushers can gently ask Aisle People to kindly slide over or allow others to pass. Even the priest-celebrant can offer a few words in his welcoming remarks.

Bishop David Ricken calls us to be missionary disciples and one way to make this happen is by welcoming others into our pews. This includes the Aisle People.

Get out and vote

Next Tuesday is Election Day. As challenging as this presidential campaign has been, it’s our duty to exercise that precious right to vote.

Pope Francis, when asked by a journalist on Oct. 2 what advice he would give American voters, he said: “I would say only: ‘Study the proposals well, pray and choose with your conscience.’”

That is sage advice for all of us. Whatever happens on Election Day, let’s also pray that our country unites and heals itself after such a divisive campaign season.

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