Did you know that churches from ancient to the end of medieval times did not have any seating arrangements? Today we are used to the standard church configuration of the pulpit at one end and rows upon rows of seating in front. This only started around the time of the Protestant Reformation. Before that, the pulpit was placed in the centre of the church and the parishioners gathered around it for the service. Homilies were brief and hence there was no need for any elaborate seating arrangements. A few pews were kept mainly for the infirm and the elderly.
The Protestant Reformation saw Biblical discourses stretching for longer periods and Protestant churches started to introduce pews in the sanctuary. Initially, the expenses were borne by the members of the parish, generally the rich and the famous. They also got pew deeds as proof of ownership of the pews. Seating in front of the pulpit was reserved for those who contributed to church maintenance and expansion such as construction of galleries.
The question that arises now is what type of seating is comfortable and right for churches. Pews are traditional but are slowly being replaced by worship chairs, more out of necessity than anything else. Pews are fixed church furniture and take up most of the sanctuary. Chairs on the other hand are stackable and the space inside the church can be adjusted as per the event taking place. This line of thought has cropped up in recent times only with the church premises becoming a place for social get together, youth club meetings and religious gatherings. Given this scenario, chairs are definitely a better option as the required number can be utilised for specific purposes and space can be carved out as per requirement.
What then are the different church seating options?
Pews often curve around the sanctuary with the centre point of the radius being the pulpit. The other type is the straight row ones where more pews can fit into a fixed limited space. If a church space is being redesigned or a new church is being built pews should be made after a lot of careful thought. A conveyancer in Melbourne or the place where the new church is being constructed may be contacted to know the latest laws on building and internal spacing in churches. One of the leading law firms specialising in these matters is P&B Law that can be approached for expert advice.
While constructing pews, the following should be kept in mind for ensuring a comfortable seating environment. What are the primary functions that are likely to take place during services or other events? If the congregation kneel during services, padded kneelers have to be provided in the front. These should be foldable so that worshippers can move freely within the rows while going in or coming out. If the services require frequent standing or sitting or walking, the pews should have larger than conventional space between them. Finally, the cushions should be around 3 inches thick for the seat and 2in for the backrest. Having a built-in lumbar support at the back add to comfort level.
Pews are mainly constructed of heavy oak or birch but those made of hollowed wood or any light synthetic materials are preferable if the pews have to be moved around.
For increased seating capacity, chairs score a point over pews. Average comfortable linear space allotted in pews is generally 24in but in chairs it is 20in. This is because people do not like to sit very close together and only about 80% of pew space is occupied. Chairs are cushioned and stackable thereby adding to space optimisation.
In the final analysis of course, what makes for comfortable church seating is the priorities in which the sanctuary is being primarily used for.