When Mary Lemon attends daily Mass, she sits in the back pew.
Always, the right-hand side, next to the center aisle. It's been this way for almost seven years."It's become my pew. It's my spot," said Lemon, a member of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Duluth. "People seem to know where everybody sits, so you don't have to worry about losing your seat."
Eighty percent of regular church-goers gravitate toward the same seat every Sunday, said Carl Dudley, a professor of church and community at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago. Seating patterns are more pronounced in small congregations.
Where people sit is not a sign of their religiosity, Dudley said. Devout people are often in the back row, contrary to popular opinion that the last pew is filled by those who come late, leave early and are only mildly interested in what transpires.
Lemon believes the back pew is the most conducive to prayer.
Parents with small children are sometimes cloistered in the back rows of a church. It provides an easy escape when junior decides to test those baby lungs.
Other parents say they like sitting toward the front of church so their children can see the pulpit.
What factors influence pew selection?
Everything from lighting, ability to see and hear the pastor, and ventilation. Most people avoid the very front pew.
"A lot of it just has to do with human habit," said Dr. David Moberg, a sociologist of religion at Marquette University, Milwaukee. "Some people avoid the front simply out of humility."