A Custom Explained

I have often wondered what the purpose in having the men sit on one side of the Church and women on the other was. I am told that this was the custom for many years in the congregation I serve. Was it really just another example of Missouri Synod Lutherans denigrating females? Another one of those, “See–I told you that the LC-MS is weird” moments.

But alas! The custom was explained to me recently by a lady who grew up in a church nearby, now in her 80’s. I asked why this was done, and she, without pause, said this: for the sake of the nursing women. Duh! Of course that makes perfect sense. Women nursed, something very natural, and there were no “cry rooms,” so they did it right there in church. For the sake of modesty, and I would suppose, the wandering eyes of the men, they sat on opposite sides.

I don’t know if that was the reason for other congregations that did that, but this lady was pretty certain that was the reason. I suppose it was after the dawn of bottle-feeding or the idea of nurseries in the church that this custom became obsolete. Maybe there was an even more fundamental reason for it, an unspoken one: that when we come together as the Body of Christ, that relationship supercedes our human relationships.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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4 Responses to A Custom Explained

  1. Rebekah says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Father Paul.

  2. Rev. R. Riebau says:

    Rev. Beisel:

    Thanks for the comment! The elder members of our congregations are truly a blessing and living link to history! I too serve in an old LCMS church, and the congregation loves to discover new historical tidbits. I will share this with our local history buffs.

    But just FYI: this practice of separating men and women is contemporary among those cultures who understand the reasoning for this practice. It’s also not specifically a “Lutheran” practice. I have a YouTube video that I show people when discussing this topic.

    Observe a Mar Thoma congregation in Divine Service (yes, that’s an Anglican “celebrity” in the chancel):

  3. Man Who Doesn't Try To Be Mom Enough says:

    Paul, a prescient piece of prose. Nursing is not a no-no in public anymore. Turn to the Times cover.

  4. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Right. I saw it. 🙂 We’re getting as bad as the Europeans on our public display of nudity.

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