Baptists and the arrangement of the Pews.

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by Ben W, Jun 5, 2005.

  1. Ben W

    Ben W
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    I was recently watching "Cold Mountain" which starred Jude Law and Nicole Kidman and is centred upon the story of the Civil War in the U,S. In any event, Nicole Kidman plays the daughter of a Pastor in a church in Cold Mountain. In this church, it has four sets of pews which are in a squared off circle, so the preacher stands in the middle and preaches, yet some are going to be looking at his back no matter which way he faces to preach.

    Is this something that went on in different Baptist Churches of a bygone era? Are any Baptist Churches still doing it today?
     
  2. rlvaughn

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    Hi, Ben. First, I believe that in the Cold Mountain scene in the church, the event is singing rather than preaching. The UK shape note site has an interesting review here:
    Cold Mountain

    The singers sit in this arrangement, divided into 4 parts - treble, alto, bass, and tenor. Dr. Warren Steel gives a brief explanation here: Why do the singers sit in a "hollow square"? If you google "hollow square" and "sacred harp", I'm sure you will find much more.

    But this arrangement, or at least similar, is used by some Baptist churches in the southern United States. I'm not sure of the history of its use, but am sure it has a history behind the current practice. I have seen this in several churches in northern Alabama and northern Georgia. The arrangement is usually only one row or maybe two behind the preacher, which is occupied by other preachers. Then there will be a few rows to the right and left of the preacher. Then the majority of the pews are out in front of the preacher.

    The church where I grew up, in East Texas, had what I suppose were the remnants of this feature. There was a bench behind the pulpit, but no one other than the preacher ever sat in it. The preacher and a visiting preacher might both sit in it before preaching started, but would move to the side or front at preaching time. Then there were two benches on either side of the pulpit. A deacon or two, maybe a preacher once in awhile, used to sit there. And then there were lots of benches in front of the pulpit.

    The pews to the right or left of the pulpit were once generally known as the amen corner. Also in early days, men and women were "segregated", one group sitting on one side of the building and the others on the other side.

    I found this on the Lebanon BC, Roswell, GA site: "Most elements of the old services remain the same, but some, such as seating, have changed over time. Up until the 1930s, men and women sat on opposite sides of the building. Several benches to the left of the pulpit were the 'Amen' corner for the deacons and older men. The 'Singers' sat in front of the pulpit; later this was moved to the right of the pulpit, opposite the 'Amen corner' and they were called the 'Choir.'" I think you'd enjoy reading the entire page: Lebanon BC History

    Here's one in Texas that mentions the side pews: "The pews were home built and unpainted, as was the church building. I never thought of the pews as being uncomfortable. The faithful men sat on the side to the speaker's right. They were the ones who said 'Amen', when the preacher spoke. It became known as the 'Amen Corner.' Older ladies sat on the side to the speaker's left and all others sat out front." Lydia MBC History

    Also, First BC, Commerce, GA: "Inside there was a pulpit in the rear with a rostrum in front covered with red carpet donated by Mrs. C.W. Hood. In front of the rostrum was an aisle. On the left was the ladies' stove because the ladies sat on that side. On the right was the men's stove. The men were forbidden by custom to cross over to the ladies' side. On the right from the pulpit was the 'Amen Corner' where the elderly brethren sat. If a young man was particularly interested in a young lady, he made it a point to get near the partition. There were two outside front doors--one for the ladies to come in and one for the men. Married men usually brought their wives to 'their door' and then went to the other to come in on the men's side." First BC, Commerce, History

    It seems that the side for the men/amen corner may not have been consistent from church to church, or the folks are describing right & left from a different vantage point. First BC in Roanoke appears to have had benches only on one side of the pulpit: "The house of worship was a small unpainted building with a single aisle. Men and boys sat on one side; women and girls, on the other. Deacons and singers occupied the Amen corner to the right of the pulpit. There were no musical instruments and candles furnished lighting when required." First BC, Roanoke, History

    This may be a lot more information than you want; but some of this stuff I found is quite interesting (at least to me).
     
  3. rsr

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  4. Bethelassoc

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    My brother-in-law has relatives that attend a Regular Primitve Baptist church in KY and they are set up like the picture above except they have a pew behind the pulpit too.

    I grew up in churches that normally had a pew behind the pulpit. Only from visiting other churches outside our association up home and when I moved down here to MO have I seen churches with choir sections.

    Ben:

    Have you looked at this site:

    http://www.mustrad.org.uk/reviews/s_harp.htm

    This sounds like what you've depicted. I've not seen the movie, but this is what came to my mind when you described it.

    David
     
  5. Bro. James Reed

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    We have a similar set-up at our church, though the area behind the pulpit has 2 pew-type chairs rather than regular pews.

    We have 3 rows of pews on either side of the pulpit and about 10 rows in front of the pulpit.

    Unless we have a full house, or if we have a few visiting ministers/deacons, no one usually sits on either the sides or the rear of the pulpit.

    5th Sunday in May was just such an occassion when all of the pews were utilized. We had about 100 people there.
     
  6. Ben W

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    I will see if I can find an image, yet that could prove to be difficult, yet I am certain in the church in the film cold mountain, it was the preacher in the middle, pews in a squared off circle around him.
     
  7. Bethelassoc

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    Ben W.:

    I've seen a book on Old Regular Baptist History showing the preachers preaching in the middle of a squared circle of chairs (at least that's how I remember it). I believe this was done at an annual meeting. I've been to an "open air" service (memorial service) done kind of in the same way, except around a tree stump.

    David
     
  8. rlvaughn

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    Yes, pretty much the same. I have seen some with two rows of pews behind the pulpit rather than one. This is not used the same as in many churches with choirs, where the choir sits behind the preacher.

    Also note that there is a bench or pew in front of the pulpit in that picture, facing away from the preacher/pulpit. Many of the absolute predestinarian Primitive Baptist around here have such a pew, although I don't think I've ever seen it used. In old-time missionary Baptist, separate Baptist, "streaked-head" Baptist, et al., this is usually a mourner's bench.
     
  9. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Ben, there may be more than one scene in a church building; I don't really know. I do know there is a scene where they are singing "I'm Going Home" (no. 282 in the Sacred Harp), and the message comes in that the war has started, and the young men begin leaving. This song (and the other tune used at the beginning of the show in a war scene, with Wesley's words "And am I born to die") was recorded at Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar, Alabama, with quite a few singers I know doing the singing. Tim Eriksen, who was involved in the movie and is a singer, talked them into a "field recording" rather than a "studio recording". Anyway, all that to say that I do know about the one scene, but that doesn't mean there isn't another one to which you refer. Hope you can find something more on it. I don't think the "squared circle" around the preacher would be totally peculiar, but that is generally more of a singing arrangement than a preaching arrangement. Some churches probably tried to come up with one compromise seating arrangement which would work for both.
     
  10. Brother J.B.

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    in the old regular baptists that I grew up in. two rows behind the pulpit and in the bigger old regular baptist church houses there would be four or five rows. then that would be in a one step rise from the pews out front where a mixed congergation would sit. Now on the left of the pulpit there would be three pews on up where the woman would sit and on the right the same where the men would sit. usually they would be baptized members of the church or corresponding churchs. Not a rule but just a common practice. I think this was for convience during communion when the men and woman would seperate for feet washing. also the inner pews of the pulpit, the one on the left in front of the sisters the one behind and the one in front of the brothers would usually be seated with preachers and visiting preachers. i once watched communion in a regular primitive baptist church that did not seat that way but when it was time for the supper and feet washing. they rearranged the pews to accomodate the sitting for the sisters and brothers . brother jeremy
     

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