Monday, May 26, 2008

Squatter's Rights - they're a hoot!!

Squatters' Rights - what does that immediately bring to your mind - homesteaders of the 1800's, tree dwellers of the 1970's, indigent squatters of today under overpasses, or in squalid, abandoned city dwellings?

How about movie theater seat selection or season ticket holders at major events? Do persons have a notion of where they'll sit every concert season or where their rightful place is in the movie theater - do they want a middle section seat for best viewing and listening or an easy and fast exit seat in case of emergency or trips to the concession stands and/or restrooms?

How about your favorite yoga or aerobics classes - do you want to be near the instructor in order to view the proper poses or do you want to melt into the back rows of newcomers, hoping no one will see your missteps?

There's a lot to be said about all of the aforementioned squatters and rights gained by the habituation of favorite locales.

One of my up close and personal viewing of squatters' rights is that practiced in CHURCH PEWS. How about you? If you attend church regularly in the same building with the same cast of congregants, most likely you could chart the nave (that's where the pews are) with near accuracy revealing where you and your fellow worshipers settle in to sing, kneel, weep, laugh, pray, and praise.

But where do the "rights" go when the innocent newcomer visits and not knowing of the squatters' rights pattern chooses the path of least resistance and sits in the back pew? WHOOPS - the visitor cannot know that there is a "regular" group that occupies those back pews. In general, that group of back row folks all know how they and their neighbors are going to act before, after and during church - be it reverently, restlessly, noisily, sneezily, coughily, (sneezily, coughily??) etc. So when an unsuspecting visitor usurps the squatters' rights, although it may not be fun to be the one being misplaced, the visitor hopefully will never know what disruption they've caused:)

Now, what becomes of the braver visitor who dares drift toward the middle or front pews? Can they feel the disappointment, the surprise, even the outrage (occasionally) of the one whom they have displaced by their presence?

I ask that you ponder this with me as I face, in Fall 2008, what promises to be a new squatter opportunity. Having been the Rector(Episcopal pastor/preacher/etc.) spouse in our current community for nearly eight years, he and I have now been banned (a custom of the Episcopal Church - the retiring priest vacates the premises, even worship in that particular congregation until after a new Rector is selected). When we return to our home parish in Fall '08, (the new rector has now been called), my spouse plans to become a part of the choir. I, on the other hand, will be back in the congregation and do not feel comfortable in reclaiming my "spot" - right side pews, relatively close to the front of the nave - I would prefer less visibility and believe that to be the "polite" decision - keeping a lower profile.

I know, I know that all sounds so trivial in the scheme of things but we are funny creatures settling into comfortable surroundings and worshipers in a parish. Regulars notice when someone is missing on a Sunday, somehow keeping that person(s) in their hearts for the week surmising their absence is business or personal travel, a vacation, perhaps an illness that should be acknowledged, at least the absence is not left completely unnoticed.

When I first selected my space 8 years ago, I was in the far right of the pew up front and our resident town hermit, Harlan Miller by name - extremely faithful in attendance, poor as a church mouse, never married - sat in the left side of the same pew. I watched him for years place two or three pennies and sometimes a nickel in the offering plate, always reminding me of Jesus' widow's mite story. Harlan generally acknowledged me with a nod upon entering the pew, seldom more. His faithful attendance and financial gifts to the offering plate were observed and cherished by many of us.

Harlan was just short of his 90th birthday when he died. His pew seat was empty for a while after his death. Those around missed him dearly and respected his space. Then one Sunday a.m. someone rather new to the congregation slipped into the spot where he had resided for so many years. I felt a great sadness that a.m. not wanting someone to take up Harlan's space. I laughed at myself for thinking such a thing. Petty, selfish, territorial I scooted into that same space for a few of the next Sundays following the visitor's claim that day. In fact, it became "my space" for quite a long while and then for some reason I moved back to the right hand side of the pew and someone new did actually become a faithful attender and claim Harlan's spot....although, of course, they did not claim H's spot, they just saw an empty seat and wanted to sit there.

Months later, scheduled as a reader of the epistle, I scooted to the left of the pew for easy access to the aisle and to the sanctuary steps and reader's podium. The regular holder of that spot, a very good friend of mine, whispered from behind me that morning - "you're in my seat:)"

So, I pose a question to you regarding seating when I return as a regular to this worshiping community. Where do I sit - in my old spot, in a new spot on the left side of the church, way in the back, way up front? What would you do? Where would you sit? Have you ever or never come upon social squatters' rights before - if you say no, then I meekly suggest that you pay more attention to the peculiar habits of persons in public arenas and in church - it could be the subject of YOUR next post:)

Photo - SS- Holy Innocents Church, Maui - Ash Wednesday '08


  1. I loved what you said about Harlan's place, and the keeping of someone in mind when they are absent, I hadn't thought of it like that.

    In your place (no pun intended) I would go sit somewhere a little further back but not right at the back. Just to mark the difference, but to acknowledge that you (as well as your spouse) were an important part of the community before, as well.

    Years ago, a friend of mind was holidaying on a yacht with some Hollywood types. She joined after others had been aboard for a while. Early the first morning she went up on deck and settled into a comfy chair.

    Shortly afterwards, a well-known TV personality (female) came over to her and barked "Get out of my seat, b*!^h!".

    My friend was understandably unhappy about this, although she got out of the seat pretty quick. She worried about how impossible the rest of the trip was going to be. But it turned out this woman was fearful, insecure, paranoid and loads of other things my friend was not, and the pecking order of the chairs on deck was crucial to her sanity. Sad, huh?

    My friend became happier in her own skin and life as a result of this incident.

  2. Tess, thanks for your great reply - I always enjoy your comments!

    Your thought the other day about switching seats during a seminar is a great idea also. Thanks for stopping by:)


  3. hi ss--your post brought many images to my mind of stories in both past and present. the most vivid image i had though of your "new place" was to shake it up a bit and i wondered what would happen if you did not "squat" but rather surveyed the property from different areas each sunday. would that totally tip the apple cart? would you be considered a rabble rouser? or might you start a new trend? what if everyone moved each week...not all in the same pattern of course. i have images of community being built even stronger as they shared the prayerful time with someone new each week...all still within the same community. would the bonds be stronger? or would it be too upsetting?

    i have read tess' comment about shifting positions in a seminar, but it is one of the things i recommend in my work. if you want a new perspective, take a new seat. it might be a wonderful thing to view the new rector from both his left and right side, near and far.

    look forward to hearing what you choose. for me, i think i would take my chances and move around a bit...risky as that might be. good luck!


  4. p.s. i meant to say i have NOT read tess' comment yet :-)

  5. Yes, both Tess and Lucy, I agree thaqt a healthy selection of a different seat every now and then can and will do more for one's perspective of a place, its people, its message etc. I look forward to my new "opportunity" to select:) a spot.