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Please be seated

I’ve long been intrigued by congregations where everyone sits in the same place every Sunday at meetings. I’m guessing this isn’t just a Salvation Army thing but a universal Church thing, possibly even a biblical thing, as in the long-forgotten 11th commandment, ‘Thou shalt not budge!’.

At our welcome meeting at one corps, and to help us identify people quickly, the corps sergeant major presented Tracey and me with a floor plan of the hall showing who sat where! That’s how fixed it was.

At another corps – on a Sunday morning during school holidays when numbers were lower – I observed people sitting together in some central seats to chat before the meeting, but when the meeting was starting, they all spread out and sat in ‘their’ chairs with metres of empty seats between them. Why not sit together? Very odd.

When I was a young man, one corps officer I served under grew tired of people rushing to sit in the back two rows of the hall during meetings while the front rows were quite empty.

One Sunday, we arrived to find he’d totally removed the back two rows of seats.

While some laughed and sat elsewhere, I observed some well-respected leaders in the corps walk in, saw what had been done, turned around and went home! If they couldn’t sit in ‘their’ seats, they wouldn’t stay for church.

Once, when I was a cadet, I was attending a corps one Sunday, and I sat down with Tracey in an aisle seat as the meeting was commencing. A moment later, an elderly couple came down the aisle, stopped right next to me, looked at us, looked around the nearby seats, looked at us again, looked around the hall, looked at us and went ‘humph’, and then they went and sat down elsewhere. Clearly, we had naively filled their thrones.

Maybe – in halls that don’t have fixed seating – corps officers need to be more playful with the seating plan: change it around every few weeks and see if people know where to sit. Two aisles, three aisles, semi-circles, clusters of six: maybe even move the musicians and microphones, turn all the chairs around and face the other way.

Perhaps you could start worship by playing a variation of the groups game – “Everyone get into groups of seven. Now, groups of three. Now, groups of five. Wonderful, now sit down where you are and stay there.”

I wonder if the disciples had these problems. “Oh, Peter. You always sit next to Jesus. Let me sit there this time.” “No, Bartholomew. That’s my seat. Move it.” “But, Peter, the forgotten commandment says not to budge.” “I’ll make you budge, pal ... [Peter reaches for his sword].”

I’m sure there must have been times Jesus said, “Come on, lads, settle down. It doesn’t worry where you sit. Near or far, I love you all the same.”

“Hear that, Peter? Jesus said it doesn’t worry where we sit.” “I’ll give you something to worry about, Bart ... [Peter reaches for sword, again].”

– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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