Update on the Sanctuary Pews

For the past couple years, St. John’s has been in conversation about acquiring new pews. Our current pews have served this church for 100 years and are showing signs of 100 years of wear and tear. The thought of replacing these historic pews have generated a lot of conversation and session has taken all the comments and concerns with great seriousness and gravity.

It is true that while the condition of the pews and the amount of energy and resources it takes to repair them has sparked the conversation, it really opened up a wider conversation of what possibilities there are if we had more flexible seating. Many options were considered: refurbishing our current pews to make them more moveable and structurally sound; chairs; catalog pews; and custom-made pews. We had samples made and surveyed by the congregation and frequent tenants of St. John’s. Ultimately, we are in negotiations with a London-based company, Luke Hughes and Co., who design and make stackable pews. This company focuses on creating pews for historic churches that are older than ours. Their most recent client is the Westminster Abbey, where they designed the chancel furniture for Prince Williams’ wedding.

In conversations with Luke Hughes and Co. as well as churches who have shared wonderful testimony, it was clear that they understand the importance of balancing the beauty of historic sanctuaries with contemporary need for flexibility and multiple uses.

While session will take great care and sensitivity in the execution of changing the pews, comfort of the pews, and the care of what happens with the old pews, I want to share the WHY of why this is all happening because it is the WHY that is important and hopefully conveys that this isn’t a rash decision, but one that has been made with much discussion, input, and prayer.

St. John’s is a multi-generational worshipping community. We worship all ages, abilities, and faith experiences. The ability to have flexible seating allows us to provide and examine ways that we can better welcome and provide hospitality to a diverse people – some with strollers and walkers, some who are searching for a safe place to experience God’s presence, some who desire to pray in not only words but through interactive means. Not being confined to a certain seating arrangement allows us to be flexible to the changing needs of our congregation.

St. John’s resides in a diverse neighborhood. Every day, different people use our sanctuary space. We host at least five AA groups. We are home to a number of summer camps and music classes for children – one of them led by our very own Karen Carle Irwin who teaches three after school music classes for Claire Lilienthal School students. Every Saturday, we open our doors to hand out fresh groceries to those in need in our neighborhood. With those numbers growing, we need more space in the sanctuary to accommodate the load of food distributed and the number of clients that walk through our doors. Lastly, many people find respite in their busy day to just sit in silence and peace in our sanctuary – kids from the Montessori preschool, police officers taking a break from their rounds, visiting families from California Pacific Medical Center, and tourists drawn by the beauty of the building.

This is just what happens now. What is exciting is the other many ways St. John’s can be an active part of this community that flexible seating can provide – a place that doesn’t just worship on Sundays, but everyday through respite, sharing of food, music, fun, play, and prayer.

I know this doesn’t settle all the concern around changing the pews. I know that there are still many questions. Please continue to share your thoughts with any of the pastors or any of the elders. Let us pray that as we move forward, we continue to ask the WHY as we live into the WHAT and HOW of what we are doing.

Peace, pastor Theresa.


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