Is It Rude To Seat Latecomers Later In the Service?

I respect the opinion of the marvelous Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Rev. Laura Everett, who started a tiny Twitter dust-up by posting this [click on the image to enlarge it]:



Screenshot 2013-12-28 22.17.25I don’t find that offensive.  I don’t visit as many churches as Laura does, but when I do I often arrive late because I’m notoriously bad at finding new locations when I haven’t had enough sleep or coffee. When I see this sort of notice in the bulletin, I am grateful that the ushers have a set time to seat latecomers so that I don’t have to figure it out myself (I don’t know the liturgy, so I’d rather not guess when the best time would be to find a seat), and the ushers don’t have to get anxious wondering what the best moment might be to seat me or let me in.

Laura writes that she gets a sense of “don’t disturb our performance” from this detail in the program. That’s interesting to think about. When I attend worship as a visitor, I hope that it will be a carefully planned and executed liturgy, with excellent production values. I understand that that’s a traditional preference but I am not attracted to casual services, as I find them nerve-wracking and often even embarrassing. To me, the “Latecomers seated” suggests that this faith community knows and respects its liturgy, respects those who are leading and attending it enough to set boundaries around it, and is actually considerate of the latecomer by acknowledging that we’ll undoubtedly be present and because we will be, they want us to know when to join the service in an appropriate way.

Thanks, Laura! So — what do you all think?

7 Replies to “Is It Rude To Seat Latecomers Later In the Service?”

  1. Isn’t worship our performance before God? We should practice, rehearse, and be ready to give Him our best performance of worship. He is our sole audience. It would make great sense to have established times in the service that will not interrupt our declaration of worship.

  2. Investment in a GPS system for your vehicle might be helpful.[I have one. And on my phone. – PB]

  3. Thank you both. While I agree that having specific times to seat latecomers is a courtesy for all that makes everyone more comfortable, and having an usher help me find a place to sit would be helpful, I also share Laura’s experience of congregations being too clubby and insider. The need for any kind of community in our society is powerful, but sadly I don’t find the quality of community I seek in local church life anymore. It is all rather self centered, not terribly welcoming, and not ecumenical.

  4. Our church always has lots of latecomers. I’ve asked the ushers to close the (clear glass) sanctuary doors during the prelude and seat people afterwards during the opening hymn. It’s partly out of respect for the musician and partly that we are trying to create a quiet intro to worship for everyone. Also, I assume there are already visitors sitting in the sanctuary at this point, and I would be concerned that to have members come in jangling keys and shuffling programs and whispering to their friends during the prelude communicates to the visitor “whatever is happening here is not that important to this community.” (Not that there isn’t settling in noise anyway, but we try to minimize it.)

  5. I don’t take this as unwelcoming. Perhaps I have been “trained” too much to be on time, to the airport for the flight, to the theater for the performance, to pick up a child from school.

    In church, particularly, I find the start of the service important to focus and establish a meditative and reflective mind. So if I were the one late, I would expect to wait and be seated when my movement would not be distracting to others.

  6. I’ve traveled to many UU communities and I found this policy to be in the minority. Personally, I think it’s a bit cold and unwelcoming to visitors. As for parishioners, it may take some creative solving to fix a church that allows a slack culture where members feel ‘okay’ to come in late habitually while also talking and interfering with the service. When faced with this in a past congregation, I began starting the service strictly on time and found that members realized they wouldn’t be coddled into their seats on time. Worked great.

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