After serving several out-of-stake assignments, my wife and I recently walked in for sacrament meeting in our home-ward chapel for the first time in several years.
“Nobody gave us the seating chart,” Cheryl quipped, first to me and then to a longtime neighbor whom we sat beside near the front. We figured the front of the chapel was safe, as many members have a tendency — for a variety of reasons — to sit toward the back of a chapel or in an overflow area.
During our absence, ward membership had changed — first, from the regular move-ins and move-outs that all congregations experience, and second, from a boundary realignment several years earlier that had assigned our neighborhood into a new ward.
A new chapel, a new ward, a new home-ward meeting experience after our mission, MTC and YSA assignments — we didn’t want to take anyone’s customary location in the pews or chairs.
We experienced similar sensations in the weeks before and after while babysitting two sets of grandchildren on opposite sides of the United States and taking them to their ward sacrament meetings. “Where do you usually sit?” we asked the oldest ones, who directed us to areas in the middle rows they usually occupy with their parents.
No, Latter-day Saints don’t have seating charts, reserved seating or priority seating for worship services like those used from elementary schools to sports arenas, and from airlines to theaters.
Those presiding and conducting worship services sit in front to help direct, as do others who might be providing messages, helping with music direction and accompaniment or performing the ordinance of the sacrament.
We often happen to end up sitting in the same, customary, traditional locations when we attend our regular meetings — one might say finding a “comfort zone” but that could imply the wrong “sit and be content” connotation.
Our three similar entering-the-chapel situations over a four-week period prompted some personal reflections on congregations and locations — from my own experiences and observations.
As mentioned above, there are myriads reasons — most of them good and understandable — for where we sit in our worship meetings. Someone may prefer to be near the aisle, whether to accommodate a young child or to accompany a friend or family member in a wheelchair. Someone may want to sit near the front because of concerns with focus or hearing, while others may sit near the back to help welcome a friend or family member who is arriving late.
In times when I served in a bishopric or branch presidency and we had children at home, Cheryl had our family sit in the second row of the chapel. It was our family’s way of being as close together as possible for sacrament meeting while still boxing in the little ones. We joked that it was so Dad could give “the eye” when needed, which was very, very infrequently, but really it was more to share a smile, a wink or a nod.
I’ve watched over the years some great moments as Latter-day Saints come in to sit down for worship services — ward members reuniting with extended family who are visiting or seeing a mother on a pew who might need an extra hand with young children during the meeting and asking if they could join them.
I’ve witnessed ward members seeing a familiar face come into the chapel and making room for the friend or acquaintance to sit with them, and I’ve witnessed ward members seeing an unfamiliar face come into the chapel who then stand up and reach out to invite and welcome the visitor with an impromptu introduction.
Certainly, where one sits and the reasons why pale in comparison to the purpose of sacrament meeting — to remember the Savior and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament as well as worshipping, building faith and testimony, and conducting ward business.
The Savior promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
My thoughts on this seating matter usually move from Sabbath worship to temple worship — first being seated in the chapel of a temple, praying, pondering, reading scripture while waiting to be invited to move to the next available instruction room.
And once inside the instruction room or any ordinance room, we sit with fellow Latter-day Saints, in no order or calling, position, tenure or time in the Church. There we focus on temple ordinances, including the endowment, that “lead to the greatest blessings offered through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” and “help us focus on the Savior, His role in our Heavenly Father’s plan, and our commitment to follow Him” (“About the Temple Endowment,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
And we’re seated once again at the end of our temple worship, as underscored by President Gordon B. Hinckley in October 2004 general conference: “It is our privilege, unique and exclusive, while dressed in white, to sit at the conclusion of our ordinance work in the beautiful celestial room and ponder, meditate and silently pray.”
As with sacrament meetings, no seating charts are needed in the temple. But perhaps that phrase “comfort zone” is best suited for being seated in temple worship.