Most of us have sat for what feels like forever on an uncomfortable chair in church and thought, “I wish these seats weren’t so hard!”
Parishioners at Holy Trinity Church in Long Itchington voiced their discomfort and requested padded seats for the church. But instead of getting the thumbs up, they were told by the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry that padded seats were "overly casual" and "incompatible within a house of God". (Read the full story here)
As soon as I was old enough to don a floral dress, frilly socks, dressy shoes and a matching hair accessory, (and could sit still throughout an hour long service) I was sat on a wooden pew beside my grandmother in church.
Even though I was an infant born in the 80s, I was well aware of the unspoken rules I had to abide by during services. These included no eating (except for the toffee mints my granny would sneak to me from her sparkly purse), no slouching and no loud speaking; ensuring that I gave the pastor my full attention.
Fast forward 30 years and church looks very different today. Wooden pews have been replaced with memory foam padded chairs in most places (although clearly not in Long Itchington!) and Bibles have been replaced with phone apps. Snacking during the service is now the norm as comfortability and convenience becomes more of a priority.
Here are four other things that we do in church that we wouldn’t have dared to do 20 years ago:
1. Risk it for a (chocolate) biscuit
Whether it was a forbidden packet of Wotsits, some custard creams or a few sticks of dairy lee dunkers, everybody knew about the unspoken rule of no eating in church. Some churches even had signs on entrance doors as "gentle" reminders. Some would mention the rule during notices (to drive the point home, in case you missed it on the way in). Not that it stopped Mr Bean from trying.
This rule has changed somewhat and now only applies to babies and children under five. Adults have recently been seen feasting on what can only be described as small lunches, while the vicar, pastor or minister delivers the Word, and the usher at the door gives a side eye.
2. Chat about the weather mid-sermon
"It's good to talk." Yes, but please keep it to a minimum! Even though we have six whole days to catch up with our church brethren, we can unintentionally find ourselves in lengthy conversations with friends, (about the weather, work and the booked holidays to the tropics) which go over the time we've been allotted by the preacher to discuss a question or scripture mid-sermon.
3. Mess around with your mobile
Using the Bible app on our phones during service has become a norm, (as well as using it to check the time and respond to calls and messages). Our grandparents and parents wouldn’t have dared to use any technological devices during a service unless it was an emergency. In any case, mobile phones were luxuries that were the size of small houses, so it would’ve been pretty obvious (and embarrassing) if you were using it during service.
4. Turn up in jeans
There was only one way to dress for church and that was to wear your Sunday best. Sunday best always meant formal/work-like wear which included a tie, shirt, neatly pressed trousers, a dress or skirt (below the knee). In 2016, the traditional Sunday best attire has been replaced by stone washed jeans, a white t-shirt and a trendy blazer. 21st Century Christians have ditched tradition for comfort.
All this inevitably leads to the question: In our attempt to be more comfortable in church, have we lost a sense of reverence for God and the manner we should be seeking him as a congregation?
The Chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, Stephen Eyre QC seems to think so. In denying Holy Trinity Church their padded seats he said, "an overly casual appearance can be incompatible with a house of God and can be as unattractive to newcomers as an appearance of excessive rigour." Is this fair? Does he have a point? Let us know in the comments.