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Methodist History: The Mourner's Bench

In The United Methodist Church, persons are often invited to come forward to the altar and kneel at the chancel railing for prayer. The cushioned comfort of today's altar rails would have been unheard of in the early days of the Methodist Church in America. Early Methodists had a sacred but plain, uncomfortable wooden bench for the purpose of confession and repentance.

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This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.

This video was first posted on February 20, 2017.

(Locator: Madison, New Jersey)

Mark Shenise, United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History: "In Methodism you had a mourner's bench and the mourner's bench transcends the colonial period. It was there you would go and sit to feel sorry for your sins, to repent, to have the new birth, or to rededicate yourself to Jesus.

"You mourned for your spiritual condition. You didn't go to the altar rail. That's a camp meeting thing that comes later. You would go to the mourner's bench and then after the service, like in many evangelical services today, the pastor and the lay leaders would come over and comfort you and pray for you.

"It is plain. It's just made out of available wood, long planks. They didn't form it into a very nice looking piece of furniture. It wasn't meant for that. It's the old rugged cross.

"You're there to mourn for your sins. That wasn't meant to be done on a comfortable pew with a lot of cushions. It was supposed to be hard. It was Protestantism. It was a Protestant mentality. And Methodists are part of that. And many of these early churches had to make the maximum use of their space. And a mourner's bench is a lot easier to move than any other piece of church furniture and equipment.

"When you went to the mourner's bench the theology was this: normal time, normal space, that gets suspended. You're now in sacred time in a sacred space. It's where God would meet you. Heaven comes to Earth and Earth goes to Heaven at the same time. It could be during the service. If the Spirit was talking to your spirit and convicting you of your sins you would get up, and you go, and you literally incubate on the mourner's bench or kneel to the mourner's bench as you have this new Kingdom of God experience breaking through into your life, getting yourself right with God. This is the lightning strike place, so to speak, spiritually. This is the awakening."

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