Assigned Seats in the Black Church
Imagine walking up to a ticket booth outside a church, waiting in line to select your seat for the service you elected to attend. The more technologically advanced churches could allow seat selection online. You could show your e-ticket to an usher with a scan reader. While this sounds ridiculous, Black churches have an unwritten history of assigned seats that has existed throughout my lifetime.
Arrive early one Sunday and watch the sanctuary fill up. There will be no logical order, like from front to back or back to front. People have selected their seats over time and will return to the same seat each Sunday, provided no one has dared to sit in their place. Don’t think they won’t ask you to move either. No usher will rush up to settle the dispute like an airline flight attendant, but the offending party will generally recognize their violation and find another seat.
Some seats are reserved. While the pastor has a chair behind the pulpit, perhaps on the side. They may not sit there until a designated point in the program, perhaps just before giving the sermon. Until then, they may be seated in the front row. The choir will be in the choir stand behind the chairs for the preacher and their guests, which could include visiting pastors invited to sit on the stage. Some denominations may recognize the mothers of the church or deaconesses, sometimes dressed in white. They would sit apart from the male deacons, often wearing black.
Depending on the church, young children may have been sent off to Sunday School, where they memorize bible verses and the stories of Job, David, and other biblical figures. It is there they get their parts for the Christmas and Easter plays. They will likely sit in the main service for some portion, long enough to announce their weekly donation to the building fund and enjoy some of the pageantry of the choir marching in, baptisms, and people joining the church. They subconsciously learn what’s expected of them in the future. When allowed to sit in the service, younger children likely sit with their parents, who are expected to keep them quiet. Older kids often sit together in the back of the church. Any member has the right to shush them as needed, and if the pastor ever calls them out from the pulpit, you…