Tag Archives: It has always been done this way

It has always been done this way

People can get very defensive about pews in churches, however they are a relatively modern invention.

Initially the only seating in church was around the wall or pillars – leading to the saying the weak go to the wall – with most people standing. Then in the 14th Century pews started to be introduced, becoming popular in the 15th Century as the sermon became a more important part of the service.

As pews were introduced, so came the habit of pew renting, where people paid to install “their pew”, or rented one, and often secured a name plate to it. Despite the fact that in 1612 a court had declared that a church “is dedicated and consecrated to the service of God, and is common to all inhabitants”, and therefore it belonged to the bishop to decide the question of ownership of a seat there; the practice continued into the 1970s.

This practice mirrored the stratification in society on churches, with some people furnishing their pews with cushions and curtains, and lighting fires.

Pews tend to create a particular approach to church in which the congregation become more like an audience than those gathered around participating. In more recent times some churches have removed pews and replaced them with chairs, which allow for a variety of layouts, from the traditional rows, to services in the round, with the altar in the centre of the people.

The layout of a church can say much about what we think is happening there. What do you think?


“It has always been done this way”

There has been a lot of talk recently about Weddings and how Weddings have always been…  Well, did you know:

1076 – Weddings had to be conducted by a priest but no witnesses were required, and it could take place anywhere.

1306 – Mediterranean male bonding church ceremonies including the joining of hands at the altar, and a kiss were banned because of sex between the men.

16th Century – Council of Trent required two witnesses to be present.

1754 – The Marriage Act made the registration of marriages compulsory, and required that they take place in the Parish Church.  This did not apply to Scotland where marriages could be witnessed by anyone and did not require a priest – hence the rise of Gretna Green.

1836 – Civil marriages, and those by other denominations, became legal.

1857 – Divorce allowed to common people.  Previously an act of parliament was required.  Clergy were required to remarry divorced people and could only refuse in cases of adultery.

1870 – A wife was allowed to keep any money she earnt or inherited.  Prior to this it was legally her husbands.

1907 – Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act allowed men to marry their deceased wife’s sister (contrary to BCP table of Kindred and affinity).

1929 – Age of consent raised to 16 for both sexes, previously 14 for men and 12 for women (parental consent was required for marriages under 21, and more recently 18).

1937 – Clergy could not be compelled to preside at a marriage, or allow their church to be used for a marriage while a former spouse was alive.

1957 – Convocation of Canterbury (Church rule makers) said that Marriage Service should not be used for those with a previous spouse still living.

2002 – General Synod allows remarriage in Church.

2014 – Law allows same sex marriage in England & Wales – but does not force churches to conduct them.  Church of England refuses to do so.

“It has always been done this way”

One of the difficulties when reading the Bible is to determine which elements are culturally conditioned from the time of writing, and which are eternal truths.  This is not an easy task.

However, the same is true of many of the things that we take for granted in our churches today.  This is the start of an occasional series looking at some church history – particularly in the area of churches and worship.

This month I shall begin with church music.

Organs did not appear in general use in churches until about the 12th Century as music was associated with heathen cults.  Prior to this the music was not sung, but chanted and consisted primarily of the Psalms.

Hymns as we would recognise them started being written in the 17th and 18th centuries, with Charles Wesley a major contributor.  Carols only started being sung in church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (having been sung outside church earlier in history).

In the 19th century the organ started to replace the Parish Band and hymns were introduced into the service – often with a robed choir.  Until then most Church of England Churches did not have music in the service; however they might have a Parish Band who would play at the end of the service.  This is because the Book of Common Prayer contains very few references to music, and where it most obviously does it referred to Cathedrals and College Chapels.

In 20th Century in some churches Parish bands started to reappear, often with electric guitars and drums, but also in a folk style.

So hymns as many would recognise them in the service have been a feature of worship for about 200 years, and modern worship songs have been around for about 50 – out of the 2,000 year life of the church.

Alan Crawley

Photo thanks to Georgie Fry