Box Pew, Charleston, SC - 2012
(Click on photo to enlarge.)
I had seen pictures of box pews in old New England churches, and just assumed it was the way snooty Yankees kept other people from sitting in "their" pew on Sunday morning. But I was wrong. That's what usually happens when you form opinions without really looking into the situation.
On our first visit to Charleston, I was very surprised to find the same box pews in almost all the old churches there. Surely gracious southerners wouldn't be so territorial in church as the folks up in Boston or Providence! Then I learned the real reason for box pews, and it turned out to be a really practical one.
Before the days of central heating, these large, old churches could be very drafty in the colder winter months. The box pew was designed merely to cut down on drafts - nothing more sinister than that. See what you can learn if you just ask?
On our last trip to Charleston, we attended an evening service on Easter Sunday at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, a church with box pews. By this time I knew what box pews were all about, but I was still a little hesitant to just plop down anywhere. I was assured by an usher that anywhere we chose to sit would be fine. After choosing a pew, Theresa, Courtney, and I were soon joined by two young women as our pew and the church began to fill up. That reassured me that we weren't in the favorite pew of some old Charleston family that had been using that particular pew since the 1830s. Old notions sometimes die hard.