From The Back Pew


As evidenced by my vocation, I’m up front in worship all the time. It’s hard to lead choirs and be anywhere else . . . at least in most United Methodist Churches. Some of my Presbyterian and Episcopal friends lead worship in aural mode . . . that is, from the balcony. In those spaces, you don’t see the choir. You only hear what they offer . . . no faces or visual. Me, it’s up front . . . you see me as part of the worship landscape.

People can see whether I’m engaged or aloof. I know what my face does matters – it does for all singers. But, it matters in all that I do while being seen up front. Evidently, what I wear matters, too. (I wore a tie on Sunday and I might as well been in a tux, as I was lovingly teased by my older worshipping friends.)

And, it’s not just with visual presentation. I lead prayers, give introductions to hymns, among other things. Hence, no longer “choir director” but “worship leader.”

Recently, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to worship from the pew, instead of the loft. It helps to take a break, worship, and not be the point man for the congregation’s interaction with the Holy. Still, there are a few things I noticed from “the back pew” in worship.

Silence is intentional, dead time isn’t.
Silence is where the congregation is praying for someone or something. Dead time is where we are waiting for the worship person to get to the mic. One is holy, one isn’t. Having too much dead time causes worshippers to plan for their post-worship meal. Silence allows for preparation for the in-worship meal.

People like the end of pews.
Don’t know why people do this . . . leg room, I guess . . . but it can create problems for visitors. There can be no pews for visiting families to sit. So, they end up crawling over folks for seats or being shut out of seating altogether. It’s good for ushers to locate regular worshippers who don’t mind scooting inside to the middle of the pew. Or, perhaps it’s best to leave a pew open in the back so visitors don’t have to crawl over someone. Make room for the guests to your church.

There is much energy around the young.
You never know what might happen when the children come around, but they have an energy that is amazing. It can change everything. This past Sunday during Children’s Time, when the leader was talking about never making mistakes, a little one chimed in, “Yeah, that’s just like my mom. She never makes mistakes.” We had a hearty laugh but I thought about that all day . . . have I set up my kids with unrealistic expectations of me?

Song is essential.
Wesley said that when we sing, we pray twice. We should do this all that we can. As a music guy, this is obvious.

Movement means something.
Watching one couple during Holy Communion, I saw an the couple have a touching embrace, honoring their years of commitment to one another. During another Holy Communion, I was served by two of our youth . . . who are now headed to college. I’ve been a part of their lives for years. Some weeks, our acolyte’s struggle to light the candles — our acolytes can be short. But seeing them reach and stretch high to connect the Holy is an amazing moment. Physical acts focus the worshippers. So, why don’t we do more things to physically connect with God?

I don’t worship from the back pew often. But, when I do, I get a fresh perspective. Now, to incorporate these into worship . . .

– Matthew Robinson

One thought on “From The Back Pew

  1. Loved this! How profound! I still remember when I first began to serve on staff out of the Southern Baptist to the United Methodist. My main ministry was Youth ministries BUT because of my experience, and the Choir /Music minister was also the organist, I was asked to conduct the hymn and worship service. So I sat in the little strange section to the left of the organist but between the chancel paltform and the choir. Best seat in the house! Not only was it a great spot to watch the Youth and shoot a “parental stop that look” from time to time at some…it also gave me a great view during communion. Instead of passing trays in the pews I was moved watching families come together and dads and moms giving their children the cup and bread from teh ministers, I was moved to tears watching dear lil saints, still in hats and gloves, slowly and small quick steps forward and all they gave to kneel and take communion. The ushers were always close by and these dear lil woman would just lift their head from prayer, and lift their hand slightly and an usher was at their elbow to help them rise. Thanks for reminding me of this today! Blog on Music Boy!

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