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Kirby: Saving souls, saving seats, saving face

Published July 5, 2013 12:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Every Sunday, you'll find me in the same spot during church — slightly to the left of center on the third pew from the back. It's my new regular spot.

My old regular spot was on a folding chair way in the farthest reaches of the cultural hall/basketball court. It was a good place for a guy like me. The bishop and I could barely see each other. Even better, fewer people could overhear what I muttered to myself.

The move forward to a pew became necessary when I could no longer get through an entire meeting on a steel folding chair. My hip had declined to the point where sacrament meeting required help from the Holy-codone Ghost.

Unfortunately, padded pews are at a premium. There's a finite number of them in an LDS chapel. We have a million folding chairs, but only so many pews.

To make sure I get my new preferred spot, I show up early. Things work better when I do, because other people have their own preferred spots nearby, people whose presence helps keep me in line.

The Woods on the pew behind, the Butterfields to the right, the Adamses to the left and the Nielsens — well, they're kind of in front. Sort of. Six-year-old Ethan can be in half a dozen spots at the same time.

The point is that human beings — including Mormons — are creatures of deliberate habits. Whether we're talking church pews, bar stools, TRAX seats or movie rows, our carefully crafted seating mosaic lends itself to a certain comfortable order.

Lately, things have been going awry. Large mobs of unfamiliar types have been showing up in sacrament meeting and poaching all the good seats. They post guards around them.

Show up early and you'll still find your spot (and every other spot for an acre around it) posted "No Trespassing" with a sweater, a diaper bag, a program, hymnal, bear trap, etc.

More ominous are the guards posted to see that the people whose seats these normally belong to don't fail to get the point. You can't sit here today. We're here. A lot of us. Go somewhere else.

If you're even a semi-regular church attendee, it's not hard to figure out what is going on: A missionary is leaving, a baby is being blessed. The extended family and friends have shown up en masse to see it happen.

Showing up isn't the problem. The problem is that these people all want to sit together.

This has never really posed a problem for me, because these pew poachers never want to congregate in the back on folding chairs with the rabble.

Nope. They want to be up front so they can see — and be seen by — the object of their affection. Together. Everyone else can go sit somewhere else. In the extremity of their family gospel bliss, they forget what an imposition this is.

The obvious response to this might be, "What's the big deal? It's just the one Sunday."

Yeah, it is just the one Sunday — for you. But in a ward with a certain demographic — babies, missionaries, etc. — it's every Sunday.

Here's the thing. I have NEVER punched someone because I didn't get my preferred church seat. Even in my dark spiritual state, that's a level of irony I couldn't handle. But I can understand how it might escape someone else.

Last Sunday, it did. A debate over saving seats in a Plain City ward resulted in someone not only getting punched but also hit by a car in the parking lot. Someone else got arrested.

A letter from the LDS Church's First Presidency would take care of the pew-poaching problem, although probably not right away. Remember the church directive telling us not to mob airport concourses to welcome home a missionary? Took that one a while to sink in, too.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.