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Jim Bishop | Where you sit may partly determine where you stand

Some things I’ll never understand in this lifetime:
– Why professional athletes receive obscene salaries, then turn around and take performance enhancement drugs?
– Why institutions and companies largely responsible for the economic mess we’re in are the first and biggest recipients of the government bailout?
– Why no-talent artists are able to moan, grown and shriek their way to receiving Grammy® awards?
– Why any person working in health care would smoke?
– Why we make certain choices that we know up front will have negative consequences?
– Why do fools fall in love?
– Why we can’t seem to learn that the “war to end all wars” didn’t?
– Why a test isn’t required before one becomes a parent similar to becoming a licensed driver?
– Why about the time the various pieces of life’s puzzle start to fit together it’s retirement time?

While less perplexing in the grand scheme of things, I often wonder why people seem to prefer the front of the bus (or roller coaster), the middle of the road (figuratively and literally) and the back of the church.

I’ve been an usher at my congregation, Community Mennonite, for many years as well as at numerous public programs, and observe a similar phenomenon – at sporting events, concerts and programs featuring noted speakers, people fill the front rows immediately, usually paying extra for those seats.

Why is it so difficult to get people to occupy the front pews or chairs at church? Often, I’ll usher an individual, couple or family down the aisle toward the front, then turn around and discover no one there; they slipped in someplace mid way or nearer the back.

Last Sunday, as head usher, I stayed at the back of the sanctuary the entire service. I got little out of the proceedings between the cries of cranky and restless infants, an inability to hear or see very well and the distraction caused by a steady flow of persons (of all ages) going in and out the doors.

Sometime ago, I channeled my consternation on this state of affairs into a song, creating new lyrics to the tune of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” a pop song that originated as an advertising jingle and sung by the Hillside Singers, for Coca-Cola, and featured in 1971 as a TV commercial. The Hillside Singers’ version was released as a successful single the same year; it reached #5 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. (The New Seekers also had a hit with the song).

My version, on the other hand, was never publicly performed (wonder why?) but maybe I should record and try to market it these many years later. I present it here, with an invitation to try singing it, even if your kids snicker or people stare at you in some public setting, like during the middle of the worship service…



I’d like to find a seat in church

As far back to the rear

As I can be and still can see

And hear occasionally.


You’ll never find me sitting in

The first or second pew.

Those seats are for

Proud people or

Those over eighty-two.


It’s not that church is all that bad

The service could be worse.

And when we sing I sometimes reach

Beyond the second verse.


Save me a seat and keep it warm

In the very last row,

And when the service is dismissed

I’ll be the first to go.



‘Cause you know that I (that I)

Only come to see who (to see who)

Else is here in church too (in church too)

Save me a back pew



Is part of the problem related to people’s self-image or some false sense of humility? You’ve heard it said, “Ah, it’s great to be humble,” and I’ve been in settings where someone is being publicly recognized for some achievement, and in accepting the honor he or she begins with a long disclaimer on why he or she doesn’t deserve it. Does being near the front automatically put persons in some imagined “spotlight?”

I grew up occupying a seat or desk in the front row of my grade school, junior high and school, either because my last name started with “B” or because the teachers wanted to keep closer tabs on one of their star pupils. I know that I performed better academically – and usually stayed out of trouble – by occupying a ringside seat. At my home congregation, the Bishop bunch filled an entire pew. It was the same location every Sunday – left side, third row from the front.

I suggest that the first few rows in the church sanctuary should be among the first ones filled. Why? To me, these are the best seats in the house – up close and personal, where the action is, where one can hear and see better and participate more fully in all that is to come. Beyond that, it’s certainly reasonable to reserve the back rows for families with small children. Let’s not even open the balcony until the sanctuary has reached capacity. And, what about arriving on time? (Let’s not get too radical here . . .).

If I seat you up front, will you stand for that?


Column by Jim Bishop

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