Chapel Seating

As a new member and as a missionary, I usually sat near the back of the chapel. I wanted to observe what the other members were doing.

As newlyweds, my wife and I usually sat on the side of the chapel, about halfway back. This location provides good sightlines to the pulpit, and if you position yourself against the wall, you avoid having other members surprise you from behind before the meeting.

That lasted until we had twins, when we moved to the front pew on the side opposite the sacrament table. That location allowed ample floor space for our two babies in car seats.

As our children grew, we moved to the center of the chapel, second row (but the first occupied row). Our family was able to focus on the meeting more effectively when we weren’t required to look through the congregation.

Most of the location changes described above occurred when we transitioned to a new ward. Have you ever tried to change your seat location, once established in a ward?

When I am traveling and I visit wards, I usually sit in the back, near the edge. (Unless it’s one of those wards where you have to arrive really early to get those seats.) I am trying to be unobtrusive, to avoid penetrating the ward membrane.

Where do you sit in sacrament meeting? And what does it say about you?

80 comments for “Chapel Seating

  1. We sit in the back – in the folding chairs in the cultural hall. No big mystery here – it says that we are always late and can’t get a better seat. It would help if the folks who live across the street from the chapel would stop coming early, putting scriptures on pews to save seats, and then returning right before church starts, but hey, that’s a rant for another day…

  2. We don’t have set seats, although we tend to take ones along the side in the chapel — we usually arrive on time to get chapel seats, and our family conveniently occupies one row on the side.

    I once visited a ward with someone who said “I bet we’re taking some old couple’s seat” when we sat down in the front row middle section on one end. “That’s ridiculous,” I replied, “there’s no assigned seating. If someone usually sits here they can find another place.” A few minutes later, a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me, but you’re sitting in our seat,” announced an old man, supported by his eagerly nodding wife. “I didn’t think there were set seating arrangements,” I responded to make at least one attempt at getting this couple out of their rigid outlook. “But you’re in our seat,” was the unphased reply.

    We moved.

  3. Last Sunday as I almost stood up against the wall because those blasted hard chairs were hurting my back so desperately, I thought, “You know, we really should get to church on time….” I can’t remember the last time we had a choice of where to sit for that reason….. *sigh*

  4. With our young boys we tend to move around the chapel a bit. We tried sitting up close to the front once, but my wife got mad at us for doing that.

  5. Sue, I have only seen that at Stake Conference, not sacrament meeting. Of course, in our sacrament meeting, attendance is light enough that everyone gets a padded pew.

    Sideshow, Great story! I have occasionally found visitors in my pew. Or worse, longtime members of the ward who know that it’s my pew! It usually doesn’t happen two weeks in a row.

  6. When are kids were growing up, we sat a couple of rows back from the front. We felt there were less distractions. Our kids couldn’t see their friends, or worse yet other kids who were doing things we didn’t allow our kids to do in Sacrament meetings.

    Now that we are older, it’s harder to get to church on time… wife takes longer to become made up enough to go….so we sit in the back, usually on the metal chairs.

  7. We sit on the side, usually the second or third row up. We prefer the padded seats, and yet we’re far enough back that if we have to leave with the baby, it’s not that much of a distraction. We pick the side mostly because the 5 of us fit in it perfectly and there isn’t interference with anyone else in the pew.

    If we arrive late, there’s no hope of getting a padded pew, so we hang out in the RS room with the speakers on.

  8. I’m in one of the newer (2002) small-footprint urban chapels. There was a problem getting enough land for sufficient parking, and the local building codes forbade a main room with seating capacity that exceeded the parking capacity. That dictated that the folding door between the chapel and cultural hall be a _solid wall_. Actually, the track and possibly even the folding partition is in there, it was just dry-walled over. So when more land is obtained, the dry-wall can be removed, and there’s the folding partition.

    On holidays when the CEW members show up, some people have to sit on the stand.

    These small footprint buildings are not big enough to overlap units, and our parking problem makes it worse with 3 units in the building. At most you should have 2 units in this size building, 9am to Noon, and 1pm to 4pm.

    I sit in the last pew on the side, in “singles corner.”

  9. Pews? Wouldn’t that be nice.

    We have a “small footprint urban chapel” which for some bizarre reason has no permanent pews. So every week someone has to put up and take down 150 wooden (but padded) stacking chairs. What were they thinking???? Perhaps there is an explanation similar to #9, but I can’t see what it is- we have plenty of parking except for big funerals.

    We sit on the right side halfway back with our three kids. We move up and down a few rows sometimes. Usually one of us is there early for meetings so we get to choose.

  10. When I was a child, my father (who is normally not one to draw attention to himself in social situations) went through a 9 month phase where he got a great kick out of saying in the car on the way to church “who’s pew should we sit in today?” It was always amusing to watch the ripple effect of sitting in an “assigned” seat.

    Today, I try and sit near 2 other childless couples if at all possible when we arrive (tends to be on the sides). No offense to the children, but when you have over 35 nursery children, they can be a little distracting regardless of how hard these parents try to be polite and reverent. A small area of quiet helps me pay attention and can make or break a sacrament meeting for me.

  11. Tee hee hee… in February we went through an internal stake complete realignment — every ward had changes (our ward was split among 4 other wards), and we were assigned to an existing ward in another building. We decided to take our usual spot, which is most of row 3 center. We apparently frustrated the bejeebers out of an older couple, who have, it seems, claimed Row 3 Center along the Aisle for the last 40 years. We tried to leave them room, but Sunday it just finally got to them and they moved to row 2.


  12. (You need to understand, this realignment brought 102 people (about 45% active) into an already established ward of 350+… there was no where we were going to sit that wasn’t somebody’s ‘spot’.)

  13. Our ward is quite small so you can sit anywhere you want. But for years we have sat in the same pew, on the left side (facing the stand), last row before the doors. Everyone knows that’s where we sit, and I regard it as a prime location. But sometimes visitors or even ward members will sit there, and that doesn’t bother me in the least; we find somewhere else to sit. We’re just creatures of habit. (For that matter I take the same train car when commuting, too.) Most of the people in our ward have regular seating spots.

  14. We used to sit near the back on the left side of the chapel. It is a relatively small ward in the stake center, and it was usually empty if we didn’t sit there. Now I have been called as the organist, we have to sit nearer the front on the other side so I don’t have to trek through the entire chapel after the songs. Most of those rows are already taken, so now we are stuck right behind the deacons.

  15. I lived for many years in a very established and stable ward in Utah (about the only change in membership occurred when an older member would die and a young family would move into the house). Every family had their own bench and everyone else knew it. A family from New England moved into the ward and I noticed that they sat in a different place each week. I heard the father say once that they thought it was a fun way to “shake things up” in our stodgy old ward. He also said it was a good way to get to know different people in the ward.

  16. For the most part in our three wards, we have always sat off to the side. There was a period of one or to years where we sat at the back on the folding chairs when our children were very young (2yo and less).

  17. What gets me are those who sit right on the aisle on an otherwise empty row, thereby blocking people from filling the rest of the row.

    If so many people want an aisle seat, lets have 4 sections of seating instead of the normal 3. Or else make the pitch between rows bigger, so we can get around the row-blockers. And no more pews that go right to the walls. There should be an aisle between the pew and the wall.

    In the March 2006 Ensign, I saw the artist rendition of the newer 5 story chapels designed for high density cities. Yikes, talk about skinny.

    Does anyone have the URL of the story of the Detroit(?) Temple, where a forward thinking member bought the property next to an existing chapel when it came up for sale, but only after the church’s property department turned down the opportunity to purchase it? And then that property was chosen for the temple site?

    A similar squabble was reported to have occurred when our chapel’s land was purchased. The powers that be apparently didn’t think we’d have 3 units with overlapping meeting times, so they didn’t purchase adjoining lots for sufficient parking before ground was broken. Now those properties (small postage stamp lots, actually) are owned by “hold outs”.

  18. I sit with my kids in one of two places: on the second-to-front side pew on the left, or in the folding chairs at the way back of the cultural hall. What that says about me is that the only time I get to church on time is when I’m the organist.

  19. My wife and children nearly always sat on the 2nd row, center section of the old Brooklyn Chapel–even when there were four children under nine years old. The distractions were fewer, they were nearer the “action”, such as it is in our worship services, and I had a better chance of catching the eye of a restless child from my customary seat on the stand.

    Which, I’m sorry to say, has been my required seat for all but four of the past twenty-five years.

  20. The post reminds me of the “King of the Hill” episode where a new family takes over the Hills’ pew at church which sends Hank into a tizzy when the pastor refuses to evict the offending family and finds him searching for a new church to attend. Anyone know of any stories where “taking” someone’s pew resulted in a similar outcome?

  21. We have Sacrament last. Thus the seating is not detemrined by one’s tardiness to Church. We used to sit near the front, but at some point realized that this was craziness given the ages and propensities of our children. Now we sit in the side 2 -3 up from the back.

    Growing up, we had a sawed off pew at our kitchen table. I don’t think I realized at the time how odd that was.

  22. I sit on the stand, every week, as I have for 25 years. From there, I can watch the various “seating” dynamics. Notably, the Bushmans always sit on the front row, center.

  23. We have sat in the second row on the side by the organ for years (it started when my wife was the ward organist.)

    One Sunday, we sat in the back because we had to leave early. The bishop wondered out loud from the pulpit why we weren’t in our normal seats and asked if everything was all right. We all had a good laugh.

  24. We sit in the front row on the left side. I direct the music but we do not have a permanent building, so there is no stand and I direct from the floor near the organ.

    Growing up, my family moved a lot and would try to arrive late on our first Sunday so as not to take anyone’s place. I would guess, though, that since we usually moved in the summer, we might have usurped the pew of a vacationing family. As far as I know, no one ever made an issue of it.

  25. Frank (22): “Growing up, we had a sawed off pew at our kitchen table. I don’t think I realized at the time how odd that was.”

    We, too, had a pew at the table (not sawed off). I, however, realized how unlike our neighbors that made us–but not unlike our cousins, who also used pews in the kitchen. Our pew was made of beautiful hardwood and the seat and back were contoured perfectly for comfortable sitting–unlike the planar pews of more recent vintage.

    My family has occupied the same position (front left side) since we built an official chapel in the early 80s. We started with one row, expanded to two, and are now back to one. In the singles ward I attend I sit on the back row center.

  26. During the time my father served as bishop I was mostly not active in the gospel. I did enjoy hearing him speak and my mom would alert me when he was scheduled to give a talk. The trick was to enter and leave undetected. I didn’t want any of those ward members I grew up with pestering me about a mission or my long hair(atleast I always assumed that was their objective) I would sneak in and out the back door so quietly that I wonder today if my father ever knew I was there.

  27. Our ward is as follows:

    Left side: newlyweds and couples without children
    Center Front: Couples with 1-3 children
    Center Middle: Couples with 3-unlimited children
    Center Rear: Old single ladies
    Center Back Row: Old single ladies on oxygen tanks
    Right side: Retired couples with no children

    My wife and I are left siders, and have put off having children because we are not ready for the move to the middle.

  28. As a lone man, I pretty much try to sit near someone I know, which means I could be anywhere in the back half of the chapel, except toward the center (too far to slide in gracefully since I never sit down until I’m sure the meeting is about to start).

  29. One thing about sitting in the front, at least for my family, is that we get mentioned in almost every sacrament meeting. I am not touting this as an advantage of a front-row seat. It’s just a fact. It probably has something to do with the fact that my wife, who is a notorious practical joker, has taught my children that it’s fun to make the speakers laugh. Only at appropriate times in the program, mind you.

    Several people have mentioned trying to avoid distractions by sitting in the front. Do the people who sit in the rear like the distractions? Remembering from my old days, I can see how it would help to pass the time.

  30. We recently moved from the left-side pew 3/4 back, to the middle pew 3/4 back. The side pews were better for containing bolting two-year olds, but we relented because our family has outgrown a side pew. I think a middle pew opened up when someone moved recently. People are always moving in and out of our ward.

    We always tend to sit in the same general area, but not a specific pew. Sometimes our children beat us into the chapel and pick an outrageous spot for us, e.g. the front pews when the meeting has already started. Then we have to decide whether to join them or sit somewhere else and find a way to signal them over.

    We sat in the back folding chairs once, but for some reason it seemed people were more bothered by our children back there so we avoid it now.

    We do tend to sit to the left of the chapel (left if you are facing the pulpit, right if you are sitting on the stand). I think this is a function of where the better parking is (to the left of the chapel) more than politics.

  31. Talon, That was funny. Writing this post made me wonder whether we will move back to the side when we become empty nesters. I think it’s inevitable.

    Big families are almost always in the center, often center middle. That makes sense, just because of size.

    Elderly single sisters usually sit in the center rear. Why is that?

    I don’t think we have a clear division on right and left, but I do think that newlyweds are most likely to choose the sides. Are they, like Talon, avoiding the children?

  32. Our family sits in the middle usually somewhere between the 2nd to 5th row from the front. We do this so we can entertain the people sitting on the stand each sunday. (like the sunday my small daughter put her scripture bag on her head and left it there for a few minutes) We also do this because they behave better when we are closer to the front (usually) We do sit in the back on the hard chairs when we are late, and that is sometimes so crazy that it makes me want to stay home from sacrament meeting. (the benches don’t move, the metal chairs do!)

  33. I recall that, when my father was the ward clerk, we sat in the front row bench directly in front of and, more importantly, directly *below* my father’s perch atop the clerk’s desk. Perhaps that’s why I feel uncomfortable (or uncomfortably spiritual?) in a courtoom…

    Now as I think about it, that was my dad’s way of helping my mom during sacrament meetings. If we even so much as *thought about* acting up, a Death Stareâ„¢ from the ward clerk shot any impropriety down.

    Now my own family sits in the rear folding chairs not because we’re late, but because kids can’t dissapear under chairs as easily as they can benches or pews. Gives us time to react.

  34. I spend most of my Sacrament meetings out in the “baby ghetto” in the lobby. There is a Mother’s Room with sound piped in, but if you take a screaming two-year-old in there it disrupts all the little nursing babies.

    In one ward I was in long ago, they had a mother’s room that had a huge soundproof window looking out on the chapel, as well as sound piped in, so that you could see the speaker as well as hear him. I don’t know why they don’t do that anymore; it was quite handy. Not only for the mothers with babies, but for the larger families, because it created two different sizes of side pews. The pews directly in front of the window were long enough for a large family.

  35. My husband’s in the bishopric, so we sit in the row right behind the deacons on the same side of the chapel as the bishopric up in front. This is the closest we get to sitting with him, since he’s always on the stand except for stake & general conference. The other “bishopric widows” and all our kids are in nearby rows, so they can at least see their dads.

  36. In the last ward I lived in, which was over 15 years ago, we sat on the right hand side behind this woman who had several children but never a man. I wondered what her story was–divorced? Widowed? It was a long time before I figured out that she was married to a counselor in the bishopric. Boy did I feel stupid after that.

  37. #35, Doug: Not to threadjack (he says starting a threadjack), but I wonder why most wards no longer have the clerk sitting up front in the clerk’s desk. When I joined the Church everyone did that. However, I don’t remember the last time I saw a clerk up front, though I believe that even new chapels have a desk for him (or am I wrong about that?).

  38. Our ward has Sacrament Meeting last, which I wish were different for many reasons, but one is that since my husband and I both teach the hour before, we can’t go save seats like everyone else and so we’re always hunting for a place to fit our family of 6 right as the meeting starts. We’re lucky to be together, usually in the back on the chairs.

  39. Re: the windowed rooms for baby watchers in chapels, we had a chapel with one of those. Sometimes it was very nice and quiet. Often at least one of the rooms was a chat zone where the toddlers were allowed free reign. Since our objective is to get the kids to sit quietly in the chapel, it did not always help us to go in there. But other times they were great.

  40. bookslinger (#18): “In the March 2006 Ensign, I saw the artist rendition of the newer 5 story chapels designed for high density cities. Yikes, talk aout skinny.”

    I had to check this out (pdf file here, see pp. 76-8) b/c your “5 story chapels” got my mind envisioning 5 levels of balcony seating in the chapel itself. Alas, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    When we’re feeling righteous, we sit on the left side of the chapel, but more frequenlty we sit on the right side (since the bishop is the Lord’s representative, that effectively puts us on the Lord’s left side), although lately I’ve spent more time in the hall with a teething baby than inside the chapel….

  41. #33: “Big families are almost always in the center, often center middle. That makes sense, just because of size.”

    There’s a family in my ward with ten kids total – one is on a mission, and most of the year one or two are at college. They take two (adjacent) side pews, with a parent anchoring each one.

    My ward has an interesting phenomenon: the same few families are always in the folding chairs in the back, and the first several rows (particularly in the middle) are always empty.

    My parents’ ward has provided a counselor in the stake presidency since fall 1988. When he (and there’s been more than one, don’t worry) actually makes it to the ward, and the rest of the stake presidency isn’t there too, he will sit with his family.

    During the couple of years that we had Sunday School opening exercises and my father was bishop, he made a point of coming down and sitting with us for that.

  42. Jim (#39), We attend church in a new stake center, and there is no clerk’s desk. It has been replaced by a ramp for wheelchair access. I have seen the clerk at the front only a few times, in each instance in a Utah ward.

    What were they doing up there? Counting the number of people attending sacrament meeting? In our ward, the deacons do that, not always unobtrusively.

  43. I don’t know what they were doing up there. I remember my brother and me sitting with my father (who was stake clerk) in that spot at stake conference a few times.

  44. The clerks were supposed to take minutes, which I assume they did into the 20th century some time. When I joined the Church, the clerk was sitting at the front in every ward we attended. But I know–from having been a clerk in the mid 60s–that they were expected to turn in minutes of each meeting. But when I was a clerk, I didn’t sit up front because our little branch met in a building that on weekdays was a teen club. Anyone for a game of pool after Sacrament meeting?

    In our ward, the clerk takes minutes after the Sacrament has been passed. He walks up one aisle counting, then down the other. It isn’t too obtrusive, but it is obvious. I suspect a non-LDS visitor would wonder what the heck he was doing.

  45. Jim (#39)

    To continue your threadjack regarding the empty clerk’s desk, here’s my theory:

    Catholic churches have the altar in the center and the pulpit for the sermon off to one side (or sometimes pulpits on both sides). Many non-Catholic churches follow this pattern. It’s obviously less convenient to see the preacher this way, but it affirms the centrality of the altar or communion table.

    “Evangelical” churches tend to be more about preaching than liturgy and sometimes move the pulpit to the center.

    I have seen pictures of older Mormon churches that have the sacrament table in the center, in front of and below below the pulpit. But most Mormon churches currently have the sacrament table off to one side. My theory is that this reflects the centrality of preaching (or at least speaking) in Mormon church meetings, and also the fact that we have a lay priesthood in which blessing the sacrament is delegated to lower level priesthood holders and the presiding priesthood authority occupies the pulpit, and therefore, the center of attention.

    Once you put the sacrament table off to one side, what do you do on the other side for symmetry? The Berkeley Ward building (1935) has the organ on the opposite side balancing out the sacrament table, but many Mormon churches opt for a matching desk for a clerk, as you point out.

    Why is the desk now usually empty? My theory is that formal record keeping was a more important aspect of the church in the past (and note taking a higher status job skill) and occupying the clerk’s desk was a status job, more or less on par with blessing the sacrament (as a cultural matter, not as a doctrinal matter), so the symmetry made some sense. However, as secretarial work became more of a female job, the status of recording clerk declined. In addition, it was always embarassing when the the clerk fell asleep during Sacrament meeting up in front of the whole congregation.

    We have the symmetrical clerk’s desk in our Oakland Ward (1957, but a non-standard plan). Until he passed away last year in his 90’s, Grant Hawkins sat at the clerk’s desk and made tape recordings of all of our sacrament meetings (and sent copies to the various speakers which were much appreciated). No one has sat there since his death.

    And since we are on a threadjack, if the pulpit is in the center it doesn’t make sense to have a center aisle the way traditional Catholic churches do. A center aisle, and space in front of the altar, is important if you are going to have traditional style weddings in a church. The fact that Mormon chapels are not used for weddings facilitated the movement of the pulpit to the center and the elimination of the center aisle. The handbook of instructions discourages (prohibits?) the use of chapels for weddings, I think to maintain the status of temple weddings, but even if the handbook didn’t discourage it, the physical layout of the pews and pulpit would.

    These are all only my theories since I am not aware of any good study of the evolution of the interior of Mormon chapels, but if anyone knows of one I would love to hear about it.

  46. We learned to avoid the folding chairs after one of our boys tried standing on one… and it folded up with him inside it (wham-bang-scream).

    That one is going to college this fall, though, so I don’t think his big feet would fall through the chairs in quite the same way any more. And if he stood up on a chair, he’d probably hit his head on the ceiling.

  47. Regarding symmetry, in our current building, both sides are used for sacrament trays. Four Priests – two at each table – administer, eight deacons pass. Four trays of both emblems at each table.

  48. 35, Doug: Not to threadjack (he says starting a threadjack), but I wonder why most wards no longer have the clerk sitting up front in the clerk’s desk. When I joined the Church everyone did that. However, I don’t remember the last time I saw a clerk up front, though I believe that even new chapels have a desk for him (or am I wrong about that?).

    The clerk sits at the front at his desk in our ward every Sunday, and he is writing stuff down throughout. I don’t know what he is writing, but part of me believes it is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over.

  49. The handbook of instructions discourages (prohibits?) the use of chapels for weddings

    Unless this has changed recently I don’t thing this is the case. I have attended several weddings in the chapel over the years.

  50. Coffinberry:

    I’ve never seen that before. That’s really an amazing example of how “low church” we can be. We can adapt the liturgy to the physical layout, rather than the liturgy dictating the physical layout, as one might expect.

  51. Talon (#52)

    The old handbook clearly discouraged it–another room in the church or a private home were suggested as alternatives. I don’t know what the new handbook says.

  52. BTW, I don’t think “low church” is all bad, much of it arises from the fact that we have a lay priesthood, which I think is one of the glories of Mormonism.

  53. It may be a controversial viewpoint, but I think our Church is neither “low church,” or “high church.” We’re somewhere in the middle, which can make for very dull meetings and classes. Extremes are needed for controversy, drama, and art.

  54. Our chapel is always quite full, so that unless you get there really early, all of the seats in the back are already taken. Occasionally, we sit in the front row, because that’s the last to be filled. When we get their early, we try to sit in the last row that is closest to the chapel exit on the side of the primary room. Since my wife works in the primary, that affords her a quick exit.

  55. Bill and I always used to sit in the very back row, at the side so he could lean on the thing that’s there. One day I was a little late and came in and almost sat on somebody! We all laughed.

    Now we sit on the far right side because we are greeters and that’s where we greet.

    #2 Sideshow, I know they were old and you did the right thing. But I wonder what would have happened if you’d just sat there and ignored them. You could have been hit over the head.

  56. Our clerk sits up front. All through the whole meetings.

    As does our stake clerk. I watched him sit up front all through the meeting and he typed constantly. I thought, “that guy is sitting up there blogging.”

  57. Also, our ward clerk walks up and down and counts as well. I think he’s very diligent and wants us to get all the money we can. I personally would fib up about 10 people.

  58. Jim, MJ, et al.

    Let the threadjack continue.

    I haven’t seen a ward clerk sit on the stand in over 15 years. Interestingly, our stake clerk sits on the stand (at the sacrament table no less; what’s up with that?) for stake PH meetings for about 15 minutes and then he’s gone too. The two buildings I’ve attended in the last 15 years have wheelchair ramps and no clerks desks. Interesting.

    Re: #47 and church interiors and symmetry, there were two meetinghouses constructed specifically for Deaf congregations; the first was built in 1916 on 740 East 21st Street in Ogden, architected by Leslie Hodgson. The building has a wonderful early twentieth century Arts & Crafts feel to it, with dark exterior brick and tall narrow stained glass windows. The building is small; the chapel is upstairs and the classrooms and offices are in the basement (presumably because of the footprint size and convenient proximity to the warmth radiated by the boiler).

    The chapel room is unique in that the stand was designed in an inverted U-shape; people who sit on the stand (S) and the sacrament table (T) are situated to the left and right *out in front* of the pulpit (X), obviously to maximize viewing a visual language. The congregation (C) is situated as expected: facing forward to view the speaker. The floor is sloped from the back down to the front to allow parishioners to see above the heads in the row in front of them, again, maximizing access to visual language. Behold, the oldschool ASCII diagram:

    ___ X ___
    T / C \ S
    T / C C C \ S

    The Ogden Deaf Branch stayed in this building until the stake decided to move the branch into a new stake center in 1999; last I heard, a Hispanic ward meets there now.

    The other meetinghouse was constructed in the 1970s on the northeast corner of 700 East and 700 South in Salt Lake City (SL Park Stake). While most of the building looks like the cookie cutter meetinghouses of the 1970s (whitewashed cinderblock, darkwood doors and chairrails, and bad fluorescent lighting), the chapel was specifically architected for the then Salt Lake Deaf Ward and copied Hodgson’s Ogden chapel design. The room is significantly larger and therefore, the slope is much more dramatic (there’s probably a drop of 10-12 feet from the back to the front). The stand is also designed in the inverted U-shape; the bishopbric is situated left and the sacrament table on the right while the organ is directly behind the pulpit. Last time I was there, the chapel still had those oldschool solid oak pews.

    While church buildings sadly aren’t designed with this specificity anymore, technology has filled in the gaps. The Provo Utah South Stake building has accomodations for the Utah Valley Ward for the Deaf: two mounted cameras are trained on the pulpit and sacrament table and the feed is broadcast on a large 20′ x 20′ screen above the choir seats. The feed is also shown on a monitor in the lobby and the mother’s lounge. No sloped floor, but hey, the speaker is half a story tall on the screen behind him.

  59. M.J.: Very interesting ideas regarding the clerk’s desk! I would modify one aspect, however: “…as secretarial work became more of a female job, the status of recording clerk declined.” I think it may be that with the introduction of computers to the clerk’s office, the post became less demanding and therefore less “prestigious.” As a former clerk (in the age of computers), I cannot imagine doing the job without a pc.

  60. Just building on this thread jack relating to secretarial work and computers: I thought that secretarial work been a woman’s job throughout the 20th century. I’ve heard tales of women who purposefully did not learn to type in order to avoid being pigeonholed into a secretarial position. On the other hand, my grandfather was a successful and a well educated man. He died in 1984, and he never touched a computer, but he told me that the most useful course that ever took in any school was typing. (I never took a typing class. I’m a terrible student, so if I had taken such a class I’d surely have failed it. In any case, I’m completely self-taught, and I type about 100 wpm. Typing is probably the single most useful skill that I posses. Heaven knows it ain’t blogging.) In any case, it appears that the social pressures associated with the secretarial stereotype made the cost of obtaining this useful skill prohibitive for women.

  61. Re #46 – what happened to all those minutes from earlier-in-the-20th-century Sacrament Meetings? The historian in me itches to look at them… but they presumably aren’t part of each ward’s own library… where are they now? Wouldn’t they be wonderfully revealing about what a particular clerk sees as important, as well as reflecting on the changing content, sequence, and emphasis in Sac Mtg over time?

  62. DKL:

    On the secretary point, I was thinking more of the tradition of the male scribe or secretary like William Clayton, which continued through Arthur Haycock who until recently was the secretary to the First Presidency. There is also the English tradtion of the male office clerk, which continued well into the 20th century. There is probably a military origin to this tradition, like Alexander Hamilton’s relationship to George Washington as recorder (and eventually drafter) of orders and speeches, which would have continued through the second world war. I was also thinking of Heber J. Grant and his ability to move into the business world through penmanship (and shorthand?).

    The tradition of the male secretary or clerk continued in the church long after it became uncommon in the culture generally. Each of our priesthood quorum presidency has a secretary (though in my 20 or so years of service in the YM I’ve yet to have much luck in getting any of the Aaronic priethood secretarys to do anything very secretarial). The ward has a male executive secretary–though in our ward our bishop also has a female “appointments secretary” who handles some of the secretarial duties.

  63. Growing up, my family always sat on the fourth row to the left of the speaker (from our view). A family with the last name Mason sat to our right. My maiden name is Nixon. We called it the “Mason/Nixon Line”.

    There were other families who always sat in front of us in the same row. We had assigned sitting, no question. But, if a visitor was in your seat, no biggie. Move on.

  64. Say, Doug (comment 35), you’re not a long lost brother of mine, are you? That is EXACTLY what my childhood was like, right down to the death stare from the clerk’s desk above.

    We try to sit in the pews–it’s a whole lot easier to control my toddler that way. I hate sitting in the folding seats in the back for the same reason as Karen (#34)–the folding chairs move, and my boy likes to move things. It’s the reason I sort of dread stake conference–there’s no way we can get there early enough to be in the chapel (two full hours is QUITE enough for my kiddos without adding an extra hour-plus waiting time beforehand), so we’re always in the cultural hall. I have to say I haven’t gotten much out of the last three stake conference general sessions…

  65. I call Stake Conference…vacation. While my handicapped dad was with me we sat in the first row of the folding chairs because I could remove them to accommodate his wheelchair and it was too difficult to get down the narrow aisle between chairs. We had several handicapped people who ended up there. It always infuriated me when someone would sit in those seats if we weren’t early enough because there was nowhere else for handicapped people to go except block the aisle.

  66. We sit in the front now to avoid distractions for our kids (who are ages 16, 14 and 11) and because no one else ever will.

  67. I don’t like sitting in the same place every week. I make my wife move around from the middle to the side to the back. She prefers to sit in the front because thats where her family (growing up) had an “assigned” seat. They always have to sit on the second row even when we visit. I think its really funny when someone takes their spot. I really hate when people have to sit in the same place every week. I know I should really let it go, but for some reason it really bugs me. I really like sitting in the back row. Also, in our ward nobody sits in the first three rows. I think people are afraid to sit up front.

  68. We sit in the second full row on the right hand side of the chapel. When it’s just my sister and myself, we invite the family of her closest friend at church to sit with us; when more of us are present we usually sit alone. If I’m by myself and my sister’s friend’s family isn’t around, which happens about twice a year, I usually get really nervous about sitting in the room by myself, and flee after the Sacrament is passed. We leave the row in front of us open for moms with young kids and/or the organist (who has young kids,) or the very rare family with a wheelchair that actually wants to sit up front. We get to church early enough that we pretty much have our pick of spots, but we got stuck with that one the first Sunday our family was in town (not that we minded, it’s just that it wasn’t a specific choice) and well, let’s just say that after 5 years of sitting in the same spot, people tend to consider it yours. Also, now I know all the tricks of that spot — how you can squeeze in along the side if there are grumpy people on the end who won’t want to get up to let you through, where plastic toys that get thrown past your head will land, at what times the sun shines straight into your face when you’re sitting in various spots along the pew… and I take personal responsibility for ensuring that no stupid kids pull the fire alarm (which is in our row) when they shouldn’t.

    Actually, a much bigger issue with us is what order we sit in within the row. When my middle sister is here, she sits on the end (and thus takes responsibility for the fire alarm,) which annoys me because she wants to pass notes to our youngest sister, who wants to sit next to our mom, who wants to sit next to my stepfather, who wants to sit on the aisle side. Which means I’m forever between two people who want to sit next to each other. Sigh. My sister is back from college for summer break; that between-and-in-the-way status will be mine for the next three months.

    (for the record, none of the buildings I’ve been in in Ohio seem to have desks for the clerks… if they’re there, they’re very well hidden indeed)

  69. Last week in church these two old guys, one married, one single, came in and went over to the place where they normally sit (the married guy’s wife works and these guys are neighbors, so they come together). It was in the far left corner of the back row.

    They stood there in shock and contemplated the stuff someone else had left–a pair of scriptures, a backpack, a jacket. They discussed what should they do? Should they sit in the next pew?

    I got up and said, “Mike, just move their crap and sit down. They’ll never know, they’ll just think that’s where they left their stuff.”

    “Oh, no, we couldn’t do that.” And they stood there, just perplexed. I was cracking up, there were empty seats all over, it was early.

    Finally, the two missionaries who’d left their stuff came walking up and thank heaven, noticed these two old guys (in their 80’s) dismay and moved their backpacks and the old guys sat down.

    I think they’d still be standing there if the missionaries hadn’t moved their scriptures.

  70. While attending the temple early one morning with his MTC district, my husband was just about to take a seat when an older gentleman whipped his cane across it, making it clear that the seat was HIS. I always wonder if I’ll inadvertently provoke a similar reaction when I’m attending a new ward and can’t read the invisible signs on the pews yet.

  71. I realize at this point this comment probably won’t be read, but I’d be interested in a blog on bizarre sacrament meeting/testimony meeting occurrences. I love to collect those stories.

  72. “Re #46 – what happened to all those minutes from earlier-in-the-20th-century Sacrament Meetings? The historian in me itches to look at them… but they presumably aren’t part of each ward’s own library… where are they now? Wouldn’t they be wonderfully revealing about what a particular clerk sees as important, as well as reflecting on the changing content, sequence, and emphasis in Sac Mtg over time? ”

    Sad to say, but I’m afraid much of that material is gone forever. I remember my grandfather’s outrage in describing what happened sometime in the seventies. He had served for decades as a ward clerk, stake clerk, and stake executive secretary, sitting up on the stand on the other side from the sacrament table and taking meticulous, painstaking minutes, to the extent of summarizing the content of talks. Of course he kept minutes on many other meetings too, as well as church courts, and thought he was providing an important service in compiling a record of significant (and insignificant) doings and sayings of a community by which it could be remembered adn judged. He felt quite hurt and as if a big part of his life’s work had gone unappreciated when the stake decided to discard it all. Of course the wardhouse in which many of those events took place is no more, replaced by a structure with 1/10 of its character.

    Around the same time, many ward libraries were also being purged, with directives such as, “it’s only necessary to keep the most recent XX years of magazines,” or “the new pictures have arrived; you can throw away the old ones.”

    I remember in 1989 I spent some time in my grandfather’s basement looking at some old files including a multi-volume stake history. A couple of years later while I was a missionary, the house was emptied and sold. I think some copies are still extant, but I doubt there is a very wide audience for it.

  73. In my Stake, the back rows are the “evil” seats.

    Over the past several years I have been lectured to by ushers “You must be one of those back seat Mormons! Let me find a seat up front for you”, encouraged to repentance by a Stake President “Sit up here in the middle rows with me” (then he left me there), openly scorned “What are you doing sitting in the back row!?”, etc……

    There are many reasons for my preferrence for the back row seats (I could list about 8 or 10), but my comment is,

    “If these seats are so evil, let’s take them out right away!”

    But then another row would be in the back, and we would have to repeat the process till there are no seats left for anybody……

    I have noticed this in the world also, with people conducting a meeting often forcing those in the back into the front, or those on the sides into the center to snuggle. Americans have more of a requirement for “personal space” than some other cultures. Am I apostate, or am I just living with immature people?

  74. Bill, I’m still thinking about this thread. Your post makes me sad. I wish there was a second “alternative Church archives” where all that kind of stuff could be sent – all the notes, the handouts, the bulletins, the visual aids, the handwritten choir arrangements, the disciplinary council notes, photos, recipe books, the acrylic grapes, the detrius of a people. The LDS “midden,” and I further wish that it was open to anyone who wanted to come look. And, of course, that it was digitized and word-searchable, too. But I know you’re right… so much of that stuff languished in boxes on non-archival paper, was cared about at the time and then seen as insignificant a generation later, and disappeared from our collective artifacts without a trace, and therefore from our collective memory and our ability to learn from it…

  75. I’ve only lived in my ward for seven years — far too new to have my own spot in a rural Utah ward where you need a wall-sized pedigree chart to figure out who is who’s cousin.

    My wife and I, empty-nesters, prefer two to four rows back, left, right, or center — whatever is open. These zones are usually somewhat in flux. Front row, center, is occupied by a family with nine children, always on time, who have somehow always found the spot available, wherever they’ve lived.

    There was a similar thread, “Jumping Pews — Protocol question” on last year, with a number of hilarious contributions. My favorite was the stake patriarch who signaled to a brother to reclaim his spot when the “usurper” vacated it to give the opening prayer. (#19: Search 11bijeo730o4jd5 on Google Groups).

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