Is it OK to be a Pew Sitter?

On the drive home from Mass this morning I was thinking about how my relationship with the Church through my parish has changed over the past decade. Not too many years ago I tried to be fairly active in my parish. I attended Mass of course, I facilitated a Bible study group and was involved with the liturgy as a reader and an EMHC. I also made it a point to attend parish BBQ’s (back when we had them), music events, stations of the cross, etc.

After years of being treated poorly by a succession of pastors (and watching others being treated even worse) and not wanting to be around those who clung so desperately to their lay positions in the parish while driving everyone away, I slowly became a “pew sitter.”

It wasn’t a conscious choice but my only connection with the Church today is strictly Mass on Holy Days of obligation and quarterly confession at a neighboring parish. When I hear the horror stories of what’s going on (or not going on) today, I can just let it go in one ear, grin, and then let it go out the other. I really don’t care anymore. Being concerned about such matters almost drove me away from the Church more than once and I’m just not willing to risk that anymore.

So my question is, is it OK to be a “pew sitter” at Mass? Is it OK to dodge/ignore requests to serve in liturgical ministries or in ministries outside of Mass? When I pray on it, it seems that it’s OK to be a pew sitter with one possible issue – if fewer people became pew sitters over the years, the Church might be in better shape today?

Any personal insights would be appreciated. Thanks.

I don’t think you have any particular obligation to be active in your parish. However, for your own sake as a personality who was clearly drawn to involvement, I think it would be worthwhile to seek a role at the parish where you are more removed from the political bickering, or perhaps even some faith-based activity outside of your parish.

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It sounds like for you, right now, that is the right thing to do.

You can concentrate on your prayer life, and perhaps do some spiritual reading for inspiration.

No one sould judge you for your choice, and if they try to encourage you to do something you are not ready to get back into, just politely say no.

I’m sure there is no perfect parish, as all of us have room for improvement, from the priest on down. You can forgive those who have made it uncomfortable for you, and focus on growing in your faith.

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If you are feeling uncomfortable about not taking part in the parish life because of how you were treated in the past… Is this a different parish? Or is this priest a different priest?

Sounds like you a kind of person that gives everything to whatever it is you are doing.

As for parish bickery, it happens everywhere to be honest. Its not just parish bickery but whenever there is a group of people. It may be hidden at first but slowly it comes out in the wash per se. So don’t feel too bad about the past. Its sadly a natural part of life with humans

To reduce the feeling of pew sitting, is there a group you can join? Try not to have any part in its running but be an active member in just doing. Just tentatively go along and build up that activity without actually running anything about it. That way when the politics start you can grab you tea and buiscuit or coat and head of home free from the politics of the bickering. But you will also be apart of the community a bit more so when names appear on intercessions you know who they are and what they are there for etc. With any family there are good parts and bad parts and The Lords’ Family is no different to each others family. Stay with the sinking ship and then you can celebrate when the storm has passed. Try not to lead anything for now at least. Just join in with what is available at your church so as I say, when the politics start you can easily head of for home and just enjoy the social aspects of the group and learning at the same time. I know, that is hard work for someone who likes to give everything they have got and that bit more.

peace be with you:)

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I could have written your post so I appreciate the usual excellent replies. I have found that there are so many ways to serve that suit me better and cause me to sin less. SVP is always in need of help as well as many other groups in our community.

First, I am sorry to hear about the problems you have experienced. Second, lets break things down a bit. You say the issue is at this parish with successive Pastors. What about another parish? Many parishes have succumbed to the problem of Professional Catholics who think they run the show. Of course, in many parishes, those people are the only ones who can be counted on to volunteer and help with things, so it is a bit of a double edged sword.

Second, what about getting involved in the community or a charity which is consistent with the mission of the Church? The local St. Vincent de Paul store, Meals on Wheels, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, etc. are all great examples of how you can help to build up the Kingdom of God, albeit outside of the parish.

I hope you find something worthy of your time and talents and also a parish community where you can be involved.


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Stewardship isn’t limited to activities within any parish. Simple everyday activities such as donating blood and visiting nursing homes define stewardship, much to the dismay of many pastors. Feel free to be a Catholic Christian outside the parish setting.

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I don’t get involved with everything going on in my Parish either I sometimes go to the womens gulid meetings and I do take care of the Church Library sometime I am so busy taking care of the Library in addition to working a secular job I don’t have time for much else.

Depends on your definition of “pew-sitter”.

If it means you attend Mass weekly out of obligation, and the rest of the week you have no relationship with God, then the answer is NO!

It it means you attend Mass weekly because of a fervent desire to love God (with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul), and you have a good healthy relationship with God (praying, loving your neighbor, receiving the sacraments), but you do not wish to get involved with a parish sanctioned ministry, then the answer is YES, its okay!

However, please understand that “pew-sitters” make up the majority of the parish, and hopefully the overwhelming majority of them belong to the second group I mentioned.

And, I would think the Lord would be pleased with both types of pew-sitters, because he will call them to serve in some way, according to his own divine plan, will, and timeline…So, while you consider where you are in your journey of faith, don’t be too quick to inadvertently judge anyone else as “just a pew-sitter”, because only God knows their hearts!

I’ll pray for you in your time of discernment.

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Dear OP;

… know what ya mean. I’m sittin’ in the pew right now too. But I know this is where God wants me at this time. I had my Martha time but now I’m just resting … resting at Jesus’ feet. Like you, I go faithfully to Mass on Sunday and Holy Days. I put in my money. Sometimes, I manage to get to daily Mass, sometimes I get to Adoration. God has a new job for me, intercessory prayer. I’m not very good at it yet but I’m comming to realize how necessary this work is. Without it all other work is in vain. Hope you find your new job soon. Glad I found mine.

I really appreciate the thoughtful responses. Thanks very much.

Yes, I could possibly attend a better parish (the one I drive to for confession is marginally better) but I don’t think there is any way I would become really active in any parish (at least around here) again. I’ve simply experienced too many good people being mistreated (or treated with indifference) by various pastors in this diocese. They end-up becoming pew sitters or they leave the Church altogether. I don’t want to end-up leaving the Church.

I suspect this stems from a succession of poor bishops in my diocese. As I mentioned earlier I was mistreated by my last two pastors (although not to the level that many others have been.) I have also been treated poorly by my bishop – and not when I was asking for something or complaining about something either.

It got to the point where I stepped back, looked at the situation, shook my head realizing things aren’t about to improve and then sort of “naturally” and unintentionally became a pew sitter. Probably as a defense I suspect, against subjecting myself to more abuse which might well have resulted in leaving the Church.

After awhile it became clear that I needed a spritual life that was independent of service to the Church and to the mercurial whims of others. I do avail myself to the sacraments. I do pray – particularly the Liturgy of the Hours (I “keep the office.”) But to really get involved in a parish again? Even the thought sort of makes me chuckle as I type this. It also triggers a feeling of disgust which sort of concerns me.

In the end I worry about commiting sins of ommission because I have been given gifts that some have suggested are not being fully exploited for my good and the good of my parish.

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Your posting made me smile. Thank you!

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I think it’s OK to be a pew-sitter, particularly if it helps you remain in the Church. I am a pew-sitter and I am bothered by that fact sometimes but things ultimately work out.

Last Sunday I went to Mass and read in the bulletin that the bishop was going to celebrate the next Saturday vigil Mass and then there was going to be a march to the local Planned Parenthood office. Pro-life events deeply interest me, especially those outside of my parish. What didn’t excite me was the prospect of 2-3 grim faced priests (after more than 2 dozen were invited) who showed they clearly wanted to be somewhere else and 50 insiders trying to kiss-up to the bishop. So I just said “no way” to myself and Mass began.

At the end of Mass the Mass and march were mentioned. They had a sign-up sheet and the pang to sign-up hit hard but there’s just no way I was going to be there. As I was leaving church a woman from the local 40 Days of Prayer organization approached me. The group is recognized and approved by my bishop but it gets little support from local priests. I signed up to pray in from of the Planned Parenthood office for the next 5 Sundays. I look forward to the experience and I have absolutely no regret for skipping the bishop’s march.

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Overcoming or even just bearing with difficulties like this could be an opportunity to grow in holiness. But you don’t have to be involved outside of Mass. I’m not so far except selling raffle tickets, I decided against being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist because I felt too nervous (and didn’t practice the virtue of fortitude).

I think there are times in our spiritual lives where we can be a “Martha”, and other times we need to be Mary sitting at the foot of the master. A retreat master I listened to said that our spiritual lives are like a pitcher of water and if we keep pouring water but not filling the pitcher we end up with an empty vessel.

It sounds like from what you describe you are in the space God wants you to be.

Also, from your posts it sounds like you have experienced repeated hurts that seem to go beyond the usual parish politics. Most parishoners have not been mistreated by a series of pastors and a bishop. You also mention that you have gifts that have not been “exploited” for the good of the parish. There is hurt in your writing, and I pray you will become more at ease with these.

Just going from what you have said, my initial reaction is that you continue to do what you are doing and as other posters have said, seek (when you are ready) a ministry outside the boundaries of a parish.

You are part of the Church and as a member of God’s People every minute of every day you are one with God and with other members of the Body of Christ .

Your daily response to Christ’s call in your everday life is essential to being His disciple .

One hour a week on a Sunday doesn’t define who you are or who you are connected to .

Msgr. Ronald Knox once said, “Those who are inclined to be seasick should not go down into the ship’s boiler room.”

As long as there are enough sailors down below running the ship, you are perfectly justified in staying on the top deck and enjoying the cruise! :thumbsup:

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You know when I joined the RCC ten years ago, I was all gung to do stuff. so what did I do - I prayed about it and read for two years. Built up my faith and knowledge. Then out of blue - an announcement in the bulletin and I began to read at Mass. Latter the DRE drafted me out of the blue to teach. God will make his will known when He is ready - all you must is say yes. Maybe this is your Ellijah moment - relax and eat under the broom tree or else the journey will be to much for you.

To tell you the truth I also read and EMHC, and I must admit there are Sunday’s when the best thing for me is to sit in the back row and just watch the beauty of the Mass unfold before me. Ahh the stunning beauty.

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Thank you for your comments. They show great insight. I also appreciate your prayers. I would indeed say that I have been treated very poorly by a few pastors and my current bishop. I would also be quick to add that I have observed many others treated even worse and that my real dismay stems from the fact that such behavior is nothing new, nor do I see an end to it.

I also struggle greatly with the question of how God could allow such behavior from those who are entrusted with the operation of His Church? I have seen far, far too many souls drift away from the Church because of horrid shepharding. Why does God allow this and when will it end?

The best anology I can use to describe my relationship with the Church right now through my parish is like dealing with a government bureaucratic office. On the one hand I do appreciate the fact the parish exists and that it is staffed with priests because it allows me to receive the sacraments and to satisfy my obligations.

On the other hand while I have forgiven my current pastor for his transgressions again me, I want absolutely nothing to do with him outside of Mass. I don’t respect him (I am long past the point of saluting the uniform) and I don’t trust him. It would not be prudent for me to have anything but the least possible interaction with him. My relationship with him would probably best be described as distant with a fair amount of distrust and disgust. Unfortunate, but I would take it over leaving the Church anytime – a path far too many people have chosen or have been forced down.

Thank you again for your comments. This thread is easing a concern of mine.

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A seat on the top deck isn’t all that comfortable when the ship is listing badly and the engines are sputtering on and off. But it’s far better than going overboard. At least for now.

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