While there are people who cannot recall the last time they went near a church, there are some for whom church is like a second home.
They attend services every morning seven days a week. And under normal circumstances, they never miss the Sunday get-together.
Church die-hards, you can call them. These devout Christians can easily take you down memory lane to the days of the first Church when nothing else mattered but being together with brethren, in praise and worship.
But what will catch your attention about some of these Christians is that they have literally earned themselves a “place” in church.
Interestingly, no one takes ‘their seats’, even when they are late. Fellow believers are so used to seeing them sit in the same spot, week after week after week, that they naturally don’t sit there even if they get to church before them. They just respect the fact that this person has been sitting in the same place for as long as they can remember.
Some are so used to ‘their seats’ that when they are late and find their favourite pew full, they would just squeeze themselves in just to sit in the same place.
Even priests and pastors know who seats where (for those who sit in particular places). It’s easy to notice when they are not around.
We interviewed some churchgoers who have not only been going to the same church for years but have been preferring to sit in the same place for many years. What inspires them and what makes them prefer sitting in the same place each Sunday?
John Myonga, Sinza Catholic Church
John Myonga, a resident of Sinza never misses mass on Sundays under normal circumstances. It only happens in situations beyond his control, like when he is sick or on safari.
The 71-year-old has been attending the same church, Mary Mother of the Saviour Parish for 22 years. He prefers either the second service at seven in the morning or the third at nine o’clock.
“I go to church every Sunday. I’ve been going to church almost my entire life. I have never thought of stopping or changing my routine. Going to church has become part of my life.”
Asked why he devotes his time to God, Myonga, who is also a leader in his church said: “Look at my age! It is by God’s grace that I have lived this long. Some of my friends are already dead but here I am. Why not go to church and pray to my Lord?” he queries.
For him, going to church is important because he believes that it is the right place where he can speak straight to his God, thanking him for everything he has done for him.
“It is very important for me to go to church. If God wakes me up healthy every morning and gives me strength to go to work, I feel obliged to go to church to thank Him. There are people lying in hospital beds or at home, sick. They would be thankful for even a few minutes to be able to get out of bed and go to church to speak to their God but they can’t. Who am I not to spare a few minutes to go praise and worship Him?” Myonga humbly queries.
For him, attending service is also a way of meeting different people and exchanging ideas after mass. Meeting fellow parishioners every week gives him more encouragement and also challenges him to encourage others.
“Apart from learning from our church leaders, we get the opportunity to meet different people. Sometimes we encourage and comfort each other, especially when going through hard times like during illness or despair. It really helps.”
And why does he prefer sitting in the same pew most of the time? Mzee Myonga, who prefers a particular spot in his church says he has no particular reason for doing so.
“I would not say it’s my permanent position for I do not own it. I can sit just anywhere,” he says. However, being almost among the first people to arrive at church, he feels more comfortable sitting in his favourite pew every time he finds no one sitting there.
He does not mind sitting elsewhere in case he finds his spot already occupied.
Lucia Paulo, Dar es Salaam Calvary Temple
Lucia Paulo, a worshiper at the Tanzania Assemblies of God, Dar es Salaam Calvary Temple in Tabata, has been going to the same church for close to 30 years.
Lucia started attending church seriously when she was 18. Now in her 70’s, the born again christian never misses the morning glory prayers and all night vigil prayers held on the last Friday of every month.
For her, going to church has become habitual and she feels bad whenever she misses a single service for any reason. Aneth Swai, the pastors’ wife, says Lucia is among the never-miss worshipers. Lucia amazes the pastor’s wife because despite her age, she is an active member of the church, attending all masses, all night vigil prayers, women’s seminars and morning glory prayers.
“The elderly woman has a unique character. Apart from her daily schedule, she takes trouble, together with other church members to go out there to preach the word of God. She is really a role model to young people in our church. Despite her age she still has the strength and puts much effort to serve God,” says Aneth.
Lucia, who engages in small businesses sits in the same spot in church. She usually sits in the second row in front, close to the pulpit. She feels comfortable sitting in the same place every time she attends church.
“Whenever I go to church, I find the front seats empty; so I sit there. I love the spot because it is near the altar and here I can easily see and follow all the proceedings. I feel comfortable sitting there because I’m free from distractions from people who keep going in and outside the church during service.”
Lucia says going to church helps her interact with other believers and see how God is working in their lives. “People forget that going to church to pray is a blessing. I advise others to find time to go to church and interact with fellow worshipers after service for it is beneficial not only to the soul but to the body as well,” she says.
Hellen Mbuja, Dar es Salaam Calvary Temple
Another Dar Es Salaam Calvary Temple member, Hellen Mbuja, sits in the same place, next to Lucia. Also in her 70s, Hellen too, never misses church on Sundays.
“I usually sit next to Lucia. I like sitting in the same place as I am assured of enough concentration and being able to hear the sermon,” Lucia tells me.
There is nothing that irks Hellen like movements when service is on-going. She says most people avoid sitting in the front rows especially late comers, those planning to leave before service ends or those who know they would be going out mid-service, to avoid disrupting others.
Hellen finds such movements disturbing as they interfere with her concentration. To avoid this, she sits in the front seats which most people avoid.
At her age, one would expect Hellen to be less of an active churchgoer but the opposite is true. For her, only sickness can stop her from going to church, especially if she is too weak to get out of bed.
“There are lots of challenges in this world. If you wake up in good health, it is better to thank God because For me, living to this age is a blessing.”