"In a sermon preached at the opening of S. Anne's, Annapolis Maryland, Sept. 24, 1704, by the Rev. Jas. Wootton, mention is made in almost one breath of the pues, and of 'this beautiful temple, so enormously magnificent.'"
"America has always dearly loved pues. 'We must not forget,' says a writer in the North American Review, 'one remarkable contrivance in our early churches, the arrangement of the pew-seats.'"
Yes indeed, Americans love pews, their beauty, their elegance, their magnificence. They make for the perfect accent to majestic places of worship. However, the above quote was taken from an article written in 1841 titled "The History of Pews - A Paper" which was read before The Cambridge Camden Society and whose sub-title reads thus:
"The churches of God did and do detest the profaneness that is and may be committed in close and exalted pews."
Pews were revolutionary in their day. They were met with great opposition by theologians, clergy, and even the general public. As they struggled to enter houses of worship in the early to late 17th century, they brought with them dissensions and segregations. Pews were first the property of the families that purchased them, only to be sat in by that family. At other times, they were a sign of wealth, for only the rich could sit in them. And as churches began to be pewed entirely, men and women of color were sadly forced to be seated in pews labeled "Negros."
Yet, the church would be reformed, and as the opening quote states, "America has always dearly loved pews." Pews were progressive, they met great opposition, and they fought armies of theologians and clergymen just to provide a beautiful and comfortable place for worshipers to sit.
Hearts were changed and minds reshaped during the church's reformation. Men and women alike fell in love not just with pews, but with people. They fell in love with all social classes, with people of different color, with those of various heritage, and they fell in love with Love itself. Legalism was thrust from its throne by a more complex, more complete, more genuine love. And this love continued on for decades when in the late 1950's outdoor weddings broke the mold of traditional weddings.
Met with a fair amount of reluctance, it took nearly two decades for outdoor weddings to become fairly common. Legalism still held a grasp on the hearts of many Americans. And yet, love would win, becoming even more complex, more refined, and more sincere. The barriers to new, creative, and unique ideas were crumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
Together, pews and outdoor weddings withstood the fiery trials of cultural, clerical, and societal norms. Their histories have been forgotten, but their efforts have purged the souls of generations to make smooth the paths of once very rough roads.
It is here that their paths cross. It is here that their separate lives are made one. It is here that they are married together through the unifying of young couples, lovebirds, and soul-mates. And it is here that they become witnesses for a lifetime, preachers to the masses, historians to the youth, and upholders of precious vows.
Resources: http://archive.org/details/historyofpewspap00neal ; www.theknot.com ; Clark Brewer Photography