Mormon’s like to reenact history. For example, every summer thousands of youth wear their finest pioneer costumes (coordinated of course by the Ward and Stake Pioneer Clothing Specialists) and pull custom-built handcarts across the Wyoming desert in $200 hiking boots. This experience helps the youth experience the deprivations suffered by our ancestors; except the real-pioneers walked barefoot in a snowstorm while starving to death. In modern-day treks, leaders disapprove of any treker deaths.
A more common LDS historical reenactment is based on the Land Rush popularized in the Tom Cruise movie "Far and Away". The Land Rush opened American Indian land for homesteading on a first arrival basis. In church we reenact the Land Rush each Sunday when the doors open for sacrament meeting. Like the Land Rush, prime real estate is up for grabs. Early arrivers get the cushioned pews near the front (not too close). “On-timers” get the cushy folding chairs in the middle of the chapel. Late comers get the hard metal folding chairs at the back.
Like the Land Rush, first arrivers to Sacrament meeting must stake their claim. Federal law specifies “claim boundaries must be distinctly and clearly marked as to be readily identifiable.” Similarly, when staking out a pew, LDS tradition stipulates that boundaries must be clearly marked and readily identifiable; the use of leather bound embossed personalized scripture cases is preferred.
Last week one family tried to stake a claim using church hymnals. Since the hymnal is obviously not “identifiable personal property” an elderly congregant placed the hymnals back in the racks, obliterating the claim. The dispossessed family was forced to sit on the front row which, like outer darkness, is a place no one wants to sit for the eternity of Sacrament meeting.
Federal statute limits a claim to a maximum of 1,500 by 600 feet. The rules for staking a pew are a little more murky. For example, one set of scriptures should theoretically claim the width of one bottom. Thus to claim space for a family of eight you should have eight matching sets of embossed scripture totes. However, tradition holds that you get to reserve everything between two sets of scriptures—provided they’re embossed with your name. Thus, if you place a set of scriptures at one end of the pew and another set at the other end, you get the whole pew.
There are some who believe if you stake out the same pew three weeks in a row then that particular pew is yours for life. They erroneously believe they can be five minutes late, waltz into the chapel flaunting their gold embossed calfskin scripture cases and claim their seat in the fifth pew back on the right. I like to shake these people up by claim jumping “their” pew.
In fact I like to claim someone else’s pew every week. I know it’s sinful, but I like watching the exasperated expression on their face when they arrive and see me already perched in their pew sanctimoniously reading my scriptures. Just last week I sat in someone else’s pew and Brother Thurston (who has permanently claimed the ninth pew on the left side) tapped my on the shoulder and asked what I was doing on his side of the chapel. I told him I was the new claimant of the eight row pew. He seemed skeptical of my claim as I didn’t have an embossed scripture tote.
I’m thinking of offering a staking service where if you do my home teaching for me I’ll come by your house, pick up all your scripture totes and arrange them neatly on the desired pew. That way you really can waltz into the chapel five minutes late and sit where ever you want—I’ll even guarantee you the pew of your choice by beating the Smith kids to “their” pew.
To avoid hard feelings I think there’s only one Christian way to assign seating—attentiveness. The Bishop will judge how well you pay attention and seat you accordingly. Texters, gamers and sleepers will sit at the back, families with small kids in the middle and attentive note takers in the front. I don’t know about you but I’m buying a stadium cushion for my folding chair.