This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
Seats in churches are a somewhat modern convenience, nor are they even now in use in most Roman Catholic countries. Among those earliest mentioned we find them in the churches of the Normans, made of stone, and projecting from the walls around the whole interior, except the east side. In the fourteenth century low wooden seats were promiscuously placed about the floor, with the privilege of personal claim to any one particular seat granted only to noblemen. About the middle of the sixteenth century seats were more fully provided and more regularly placed, the entrance being guarded by crossbars engraved with the initials of the occupant, but just when the custom of renting pews was first introduced might be difficult accurately to ascertain.
While there is much which may be truthfully and forcibly said against the system of raising the money necessary to meet the current expenses of the church by the renting of pews, yet there are some things to be said in its favor. While many from a mere desire to offer some excuse for not attending church, will object to going where the seats are rented, there are but few with whom this is the real cause of their absence from the house of God. Where there is one of the honest few detained on this account, there will be two, or more, of another class, who have rented a pew, because they desire recognition in some church society and who, from Sunday to Sunday, are found in their pews, not so much from a love of church going, as a feeling, when Sunday morning comes - "Well, 1 pay for a seat, and I guess I might as well go and occupy it." And some day, when actuated by no higher motive, a truth thus dropped by the "wayside" may result in the salvation of a soul and the addition to the church of a useful member.
Another advantage of the pew system is that it enables entire families to worship God together. It secures for each family their own particular seat, and when once the entire congregation is assembled, the pastor, by scanning the audience, can readily tell who of his regular attendants are absent, and when missed from their regular places a second time, inquiiy may be made and the cause of absence ascertained.
Then again, there are many persons who contribute liberally of their time and money to secure a church home for themselves, and in that church they have a local attachment for some particular pew. They object to having disinterested parties placed upon equal footing and helped to the most desirable sittings. They desire, when starting for church, to know that they are to find comfortable seats, not being left to the alternatives of going long before the hour of service, or be crowded into some uncomfortable quarter of the church. Regular attendents much prefer some regular sitting.
Perhaps the strongest argument urged by the advocates of this system is that its success has gained for it a quite general acceptance. Rev, E. N. White, D. D., of New York, says concerning the system of renting pews:
"In practice this plan has proved financially the best that has yet been devised. It certainly may be so managed that no invidious class distinctions shall be made, and so that no one need be repelled from the church by inability to pay. The differences in price, or even in location of sittings, do not necessarily trench upon the perfect brotherhood and true equality of fellow-Christians worshiping together. No honest man who fears God and pays his debts finds his self-respect touched because his house is smaller or his clothes coarser than his neighbor's; nor is he less respected by any neighbor whose respect is worth having. Why then, in the house of God need jealousy and heart-burning follow upon differences in money-ability? We often hear the charge made that the poor are kept away from our churches, but it would be hard to find, even in this money-loving city, a church where a true Christian is shut out on account of poverty, or where, because of humble attire or smallness of contribution, he is treated with disrespect.
"It may be said that under a judicious system of pew-rentals a church without a debt and without dissension, in any town where it is surrounded by a stable and well-to-do population, has before it a very simple problem, financially. It can hardly fail of a regular and sufficient income; and to be successful financially it has only to keep its expenses within its income."