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Hodges: Seating spat at Mormon ward offers lesson: Make visitors feel welcome

Published July 19, 2013 11:12 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

A fistfight recently broke out over seating at a Mormon meetinghouse in Plain City.

The ward, or congregation, was packed with visitors for a missionary farewell and a baby blessing. A quarrel ensued when a man who belongs to the ward sat where a family was reserving seats for other members. The dispute continued after the service in the parking lot where, police say, a punch was thrown.

Unfortunately, bickering over seating is common in churches, although it rarely escalates to violence. The initiator is usually a church member; the offended is often a guest.

Regular attendees get used to sitting in a particular spot and if someone else takes "their seat," it can spark an argument. Sometimes on Easter and Christmas Sunday, when attendance surges, there are a few squabbles as worshippers scramble for limited seats.

After a few years of attending a church, donating money and volunteering time, parishioners can develop a sense of entitlement. They've paid their dues, which they believe warrants certain benefits — and good seats are high on the list.

But church was never intended to be a country club where worshippers have their every need, want and desire met. Jesus reminded his disciples that he came into the world, "not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." As his followers, Christians are called to serve others and to share his gospel with nonbelievers.

When a visitor attends church, members should help create a comfortable, distraction-free environment for them to hear the message. This may require giving up a seat. If the service is packed, regular attendees should willingly yield to the newcomers.

Jesus told a parable about entitlement when he noticed guests at a wedding scrambling for the best seats. He said, when you're invited somewhere, don't take the best seat, lest someone more distinguished then you comes and you're asked to give up your spot. Instead, find the lowest seat and wait to be called to the best seat. He concluded the parable by saying, "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Pride is at the root of entitlement.

There may be blame on both sides in the Plain City spat, but a churchgoer's desire to get a seat no matter whom he hurt or offended landed him a much humbler place: a jail cell.

Contact Corey J. Hodges, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church, at coreyjhodges@comcast.net.