Are You a Gatekeeper, Slider or Middleman?

We never step foot in the cryroom for the first few months of our son’s life. Since most of his day was spent sleeping, we didn’t feel it necessary to expose him to the incubating germs that lie in wait for a host.

When we went to Sunday Mass, we would arrive early and sit at the end of one of the pews so the stroller/car seat combo could sit in the aisle right next to us. Not the main central aisle—this would disrupt the entrance procession—but one of the side aisles. This was done so that in the rare circumstance Matthew wanted to demonstrate his lung capacity—or had an “accident”—we could quickly exit without making a scene by having to hurdle 10 people while lobbing apologies.

Week after week, we would stake our claim and not budge. If someone wanted to enter the pew, we were the human gates that granted access.


If it was before Mass, my wife and I would get up and stand in the aisle so the newcomers could walk to the middle of the pew. If Mass had started and someone wanted passage, we would lift the kneeler and contort our bodies to make them as compact as possible. The newcomer then had a decision to make—whether to offer us his or her front or back. Regardless of orientation, they would then awkwardly waddle along sideways like a penguin imitating a crab until they found a vacant spot.

Whenever we did this, I felt horrible. Who are we to be gatekeepers? My preferred M.O. is to be a middleman—to slide down to the middle of an empty pew. This way I don’t hinder folks entering from either end and I am not bothered either.

In the rare instance I did sit at the end of an empty pew, I would be the one to slide down so they could then take the end. This method, however, does come with responsibility. As the slider, you need to quickly size-up the overall width of all the people wanting to sit. If you reckon high, there are wasteful gaps. If you low ball it, you sit uncomfortably, shoulder-to-shoulder, with your new pew mates. But typically, this situation resolves itself the first time all stand—usually for the Gospel. Everyone automatically redistributes themselves so each has adequate personal space. This does not include Christmas or Easter where “we, though many, form one body,” is demonstrated.

Since we arrived early, I noticed others would also sit at the end of the pew— but they did not have children in tow. I’m sure many of them had legitimate reasons. Perhaps they had a health issue that required frequent trips to the bathroom, asthma or bronchitis that caused coughing fits, claustrophobia or someone they knew was gravely ill and they needed the ability to leave immediately.

But others, I’m sure, wanted the prime spots to be the first out and into the parking lot. I would see them ride the chasuble of the celebrant in the recessional as if they were tailgating an ambulance down I-95 that was parting traffic. That is, if they didn’t leave right after communion. But who knows why they had to leave in such haste? Maybe they were tending to a sick parent or ailing spouse? Echoing the Holy Father, “Who am I to judge?”

 What is your M.O.? Are you a Gatekeeper? A Middleman? A Slider? Do you get to Mass early for first dibs? If you are the one that needs passage, is it more appropriate to offer your front or back? Share and let’s learn together!


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

April 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Our family has a unique pew strategy. We have a 7 year old with special needs and 3 other typical children as well. Although it is very challenging, we feel that our son with special needs should be able to experience the Mass as well. We sit near the front, so the kids can see and not get quite so distracted during the Mass. We also sit near family and a few other “regulars” in the front pew who understand our son’s behaviors. We slide into the pew late many weeks, as our morning is usually hectic and it is very difficult to get our son past the balcony stairs ( he LOVES stairs), but no one around us passes any judgement. My husband goes in first with my son, to keep him near the middle of the pew so he doesn’t make a run for it during Mass. Then me, with the big kids. The baby sits in her seat next to the aisle, because, God bless her, she is the quietest and needs the least amount of help getting through the Mass. Whew. Exhausting, right? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monica Benninghoff
April 4, 2014 at 2:21 am

My preferred pew is near the front of the church (I’m short), so I rarely am bothered about being a Gatekeeper, a Slider, or a Middleman… although as the wife entering the pew first, I automatically become the slider and middleman to make room for other members of my family! People avoid the front pews like the plague… but I love it up there because my attention is rarely hijacked by others’ behaviors in church. My Sunday worship is easily spiritually rewarding in the front pew. In contrast, when I sit in the Cry Room with my 18-month-old grandson, I have to sit in the front row directly behind the glass. His toddling antics and physical needs are endearing but very distracting. I pray for the people behind us struggling to maintain focus on the Mass.

April 3, 2014 at 7:06 pm

I’m a middleman. I do my best to not get annoyed with the seat hogs. I’m sort of new to my parish, and early on, I made the mistake of sitting in someones spot…dirty looks all around. I get to Mass early, and only leave after saying a thank you prayer after mass. We are so privileged to have the beautiful mass every day. I applaud your effort to stay out of the cry room, we don’t have one because Monsignor wants to see new Catholics at Mass. I love hearing little voices at Mass, except for the bloody death screams some kids are fond of issuing. Great article, you seem to be doing the parenting thing right!

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